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County set to put HotSpot crime plan into action

July 20, 1997

 

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Washington County officials have spent a large chunk of this year combing through statistics, talking with residents and culling other information for a grant application to fight crime in the Jonathan Street neighborhood.

Having won more than $200,000 in state and federal funds for the "HotSpot Community Initiative," local officials now come to the hard part - translating concepts into reality.

The county's application carefully lays out a plan involving law enforcement, parole and probation officers, prevention efforts and community groups to target crime in its most concentrated geographic location.

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State officials originally said the county would get about $181,000. But they said last week that the figure was an error; the true amount is $221,000.

Representatives of the state Office of Crime Control and Prevention will meet with local officials in August to discuss how to implement the initiative. Authorities said it is still too early to say exactly what shape many of the plans will take, but some broad parameters are emerging:

- Community Mobilization and Nuisance Abatement. The state has allocated $5,000 for such things as community cleanups and neighborhood watch groups.

Donald Davis, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has criticized the amount as too low. But Charles R. Messmer, who helped write the grant, said the rest of the money will benefit the neighborhood as well.

- Community Policing. About $34,000 will pay for an additional police officer and support services from the Maryland State Police.

- Community Probation. A little more than half of the grant money will pay for training, equipment and support for the county's parole and probation efforts.

Officials at the Division of Parole and Probation said the money will allow the office to dedicate four agents to concentrate on the Jonathan Street area. The money will provide overtime pay, officials said.

- Youth Prevention. About $25,000 will be used to craft after-school programs and other policies aimed at stopping crime before it starts among the neighborhood's youth. Initially, officials said the money will likely go to bolster community activities already in place.

- Coordination. A $43,000 budget will pay the salary and expenses of a full-time coordinator to run the initiative. Messmer, who also runs the Jail Substance Abuse Program, said this is key.

Messmer said the position will be advertised soon, with the salary probably being in the low to mid 30s. He said he hopes to see the person in place by September.

"That person's going to be the pivotal person in this project," he said.

Good starting point

Messmer said county hardly could have hoped for a better response to its grant application. He pointed out that other counties sought but did not get funding for a coordinator position. He added that the overall amount is high.

"I'm extremely pleased. We did very, very well relative to other counties statewide," he said.

Chuck Porcari, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, said Washington County's HotSpot accounts for 1.85 percent of the crime in the state's 35 high-crime areas, but is getting 4.1 percent of the funds.

Jack Middlekauff, who runs the county's parole and probation office, said he has seen up close how crime in Hagerstown has changed over the years. Nine years ago, he said, the office had about 500 cases. Now, the number is approaching 1,000.

Many of those are in the Jonathan Street area, which accounts for more than 25 percent of the office's felony cases, Middlekauff said.

The grant money will allow four of the nine parole and probation officers to work full time in the HotSpot area, Middlekauff said. Actually, with overtime, it will be more than full time, he said.

"We'll be doing HotSpots during 40 hours (work week), but we'll also be doing HotSpots after 40 hours," he said.

Preventing crime

A key component of the initiative is stopping crime before it starts, officials said.

To that end, about $25,000 will be spent on prevention efforts. Andrea Harris, program director of the Washington County Health Department's Substance Abuse Prevention Services, said there are many organizations already in place.

Those groups - such as the Boys' & Girls' Club of Washington County and the Community Enrichment Coalition - will get most of the support, Harris said.

Harris said the health department has spent months talking with residents to get a feel for the kind of services the neighborhood needs. She said that will continue.

Creating recreation opportunities, tutoring and mentoring programs and other programs, of course, is designed to prevent youth from falling into a criminal activities. But do they work?

Harris said research indicates such programs can be successful if they focus on elementary school-aged kids. If you wait until middle school, she said, prevention becomes intervention.

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