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Stronger police protection pushed for downtown

January 15, 1998

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

A more visible police presence is needed in downtown Hagerstown, even if it means paying officers overtime to ensure someone is on foot patrol day and night, city officials told Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones at a City Council work session Tuesday.

Council members said they often hear complaints that police officers aren't seen downtown and that people don't feel safe patronizing businesses there.

"It's a perception problem that we've been trying to overcome for eight, nine years, but we haven't been able to solve it," said Councilman William M. Breichner.

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That perception has to be changed for the city's investment in downtown revitalization to pay off, city officials said.

Jones said he has always understood the City Council would like a stronger police presence downtown but had never gotten specifics.

He said he was at the meeting to explain his department's current approach to coverage downtown and to see if the City Council felt it was adequate.

Two neighborhood officers work downtown as their primary assignment and normally patrol on bicycle, Jones said.

As of mid-1997, the department's patrol sergeants have been assigning an additional officer on foot to the downtown area when they can during the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight shifts, he said.

Jones estimated the additional officer has been assigned at least 60 percent of the time.

There are a minimum of seven officers - excluding sergeants, neighborhood officers and others on special assignments - on the street during a shift, he said.

The minimum would have to be raised to eight officers to assure a foot patrol officer would always be assigned to the downtown area, Jones said.

Even if it requires overtime to do it, the downtown business district should have an officer on foot patrol between 8 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. daily, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

City Council members agreed.

The request is feasible but will be a challenge, said Jones, who said the police department is already stretching its resources.

Overtime should only be looked at as a temporary measure, said Sgt. Margaret Kline, one of two neighborhood officers.

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