Alarmed residents form watch group

August 25, 1997


Staff Writer

Drug dealing in a playground where their children play and cars race past their homes with no regard for stop signs have led residents in the Ridge Avenue area to form a neighborhood watch group.

Nancy Smith, 62, said she has seen a big change in the last three years from the placid neighborhood in which she was born and raised. She said she worries that drug dealers will corrupt the children who gather in the playground off of Ridge Avenue in Hagerstown's West End.

"I've seen it with my own eyes. I was approached myself," she said.

Smith, block captain for the 500 block of the newly formed Ridge Avenue Neighborhood Watch, said neighbors know of at least four houses in the area where drug dealing occurs. She said people have walked into her house three times in the last year thinking they had the address of a person who sells drugs.


"It's not safe. You have to keep your doors locked even during the day when you are home," she said.

Residents of the watch area - which includes about 150 homes between Wesel Boulevard and Chase Street and Brewer Avenue and Burhans Boulevard - plan to meet Tuesday with police officials.

Officer Randy Rourke, a crime prevention officer for the Hagerstown Police Department, said there are about three or four active watch groups in Hagerstown. He added that Ridge residents are farther along than most new watch groups, having elected block captains and a liaison.

Joe Clevenger, who was elected liaison because his mother served a similar role in another neighborhood, said his son found a bullet shell in the playground recently. He said the neighborhood has gotten a respite recently since a basketball net was torn down. The net attracted dozens of unruly people, he said.

Still, Clevenger worries about undesirables from a nearby public housing complex. He said a homicide on Lanvale Street last month appears to have driven pushers closer to his neighborhood.

"We don't have too many problems inside the neighborhood. It's what's coming in from the outside," he said.

At first brush, Ridge Street does not appear to be a place where residents would be scrambling for the nearest bunker. Hagerstown City Police officials said there were only two violent crimes recorded last year in reporting district that includes the neighborhood and none so far this year. They also reported just one drug arrest last year.

But residents said the problems are there and several complained that the police do not respond quickly enough.

Rourke said authorities are doing the best they can.

"Be patient. Unfortunately, calls for service continue to rise over the years. We have to make allowances for that and we have to prioritize our calls," he said.

Sgt. Charles Summers, director of the Washington County Narcotics Task Force, said the area has been quiet lately. But he praised the citizens' initiative and urged them to be as specific as possible about tips.

"That's the good things about these neighborhood watches. People get organized," he said.

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