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Prostitution on the increase in Hagerstown

August 22, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

As Stephen L. Hummel was driving his 11-year-old son to Mass last Thursday, he pulled into an alley that runs behind St. Mary's School and noticed two prostitutes.

Hummel, who has been active in the school's home-school association for years, said he backed out and drove around to the other side of the building.

"I couldn't - literally - get down the alley, and it was 7:30 in the morning," he said.

It's a sight that is becoming more common at the 218 W. Washington St. school, said Hummel, who is planning to voice his concerns at next Tuesday's Hagerstown City Council meeting.

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Hummel said prostitution has plagued the area for a few years, but has grown more prevalent during the last few months.

"It hasn't gotten any better. It actually has gotten worse over the summer," he said. "Where I used to see one woman or maybe two, now they're blatant."

The complaints come as Hagerstown City Police officers are making more prostitution arrests. According to department statistics, 28 arrests were made through July of this year, up from 17 during all of 1996 and 11 in 1995.

Police Chief Dale J. Jones said the department has made a greater effort to target prostitution, but he cautioned that resources are limited.

"This is a 24-hour-a-day problem. Prostitution does not just occur at night. It happens at 8 in the morning," he said.

Jones said he heard complaints earlier this year about prostitution near St. Mary's, and again about a week ago. When officials crack down in one area, prostitution often crops up elsewhere, he said.

"It's tough to stomp it out completely," he said.

Hummel said he wants swift action because school starts in two weeks. Past efforts have worked, but only for a time, he said.

"The girls move on and then they're back 20 minutes later," Hummel said.

Enforcing prostitution laws is no easy task, Jones said.

It is difficult for patrol officers to make arrests, Jones said. But he said staging stings is time-consuming and siphons resources from other problems.

Although women standing on the street might seem suspicious, Jones said police cannot arrest them unless they can prove crimes are being committed.

"It gets back to this difficult issue involving loitering. Loitering in and of itself is not illegal, and it's unconstitutional to make it illegal," he said.

But Hummel said there must be action the city can take. He suggested the penalty for a prostitution conviction be more severe.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said tougher penalties for prostitution are worth examining. No matter what the punishment, however, he said the issue still comes down to enforcement.

"You got to make it hard for them to be there," he said. "It is definitely a police issue - the same way with drugs."

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