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Editorial - Police policy must change

September 24, 1997

What responsibility do Hagerstown police have to the women of the city?

That's the question the department's leaders ought to be asking themselves following a woman's abduction at gunpoint on the Dual Highway on Monday. If what happened in this case doesn't lead elected officials to call for a serious shake-up of police information-handling policies, then the mayor and council will deserve any criticism they get from citizens.

The incident began on Monday as the victim was sitting in her car at the intersection of Dual Highway and Manor Drive. A man displaying a handgun entered her car on the passenger side, and ordered her to drive to Interstate 81. The two traveled northbound into Pennsylvania, where she was raped and released the following day, which was Tuesday.

Because the victim's husband had reported her missing to the Frederick barracks of the Maryland State Police, that agency is investigating the case. Troopers informed Hagerstown City Police of the details of the case on Wednesday. Now comes the part that has us concerned.

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Instead of issuing their own press release with a description of the suspect, HPD officials waited until Frederick issued its own press release, at 4 p.m. yesterday. That meant that the description of the suspect, which could have been in Thursday's Herald-Mail, won't appear until today. That meant there was a whole day during which the women who live and travel through the city didn't know there was a 25-year-old white male with reddish hair out there who just might force them to submit to rape at gunpoint.

HPD officials say they didn't do their own release because they say it's their policy not to do a press release if they're not investigating the case. Maybe that makes sense if we're talking about bicycle theft, but not when the crime is rape at gunpoint. In this case, it seems, policy outranked common sense, and somebody in authority must take steps to make sure it never happens again.

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