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Mayoral rivals agree more police manpower is needed

March 18, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager and his Republican challenger Monday night said more police officers might be needed to combat crime and hinted a tax increase might be necessary to pay for it.

Sager and Robert E. Bruchey II listened to the concerns of more than 50 residents at a neighborhood forum sponsored by a group called Community Outreach Mission Empowerment.

The forum was held in the community room of the Bethel Gardens apartment complex on Henry Avenue.

After listening to the concerns of residents who said they are losing control of their neighborhood, Sager said he was more inclined to proposing increasing the 93-officer force.

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If they decide to hire more officers, Sager said city officials would first examine shifting budget priorities and seek state and federal grants. If that did not yield enough money, Sager said raising the property tax would be an option.

Hiring three officers would require a 2-cent increase in the property tax. That would generate about $120,000 and cost average homeowners - those whose properties are assessed at $100,000 - about $8, he said.

"It's not the first thing you go to," Sager said of tax increases.

Bruchey was more blunt.

"You can't have effective policing without effective manpower," he said. "Yeah, it's going to cost money. If it means it would cost me an extra $10 to hire three police officers, I would pay $30 to hire nine more officers if that means keeping my family safe."

Bruchey said the department should probably have about 10 to 15 more officers to tackle increasing drug crime.

Sager said he does not have a magic number, but added that the City Council will have to determine over the next month or so whether more officers are needed. He noted that he supported a 4-cent tax increase eight years ago to hire six more officers.

Sager and Bruchey heard plenty of calls for better police protection at Monday's meeting.

Mary Spencer said she was disturbed to see drug dealing in front of churches.

"It's ridiculous that people stand down there by the church selling drugs," she said.

Caroline Brooks, who chairs the Board of Commissioners of the Hagerstown Housing Authority, said children suffer the most when the drug trade is allow to operate unchecked.

"These children are being held hostage for reasons that they can't control and we can't control," she said. "It's not acceptable that kids are being held hostage for any reason."

Police Chief Dale J. Jones said the department added two officers with a federal grant last summer and has assigned them full time to the Jonathan Street area.

Jones said two more officers will patrol from April to summer, but added that manpower constraints prevent him from making the move permanent.

Sgt. Margaret Kline, head of the Neighborhood Policing unit, told residents to call 739-6000 - a direct line to the police dispatcher - when they see suspicious activity.

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