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New crime unit targets drug buyers, sellers

January 28, 1998

New crime unit targets drug buyers, sellers

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

A new crime unit was converging on the Jonathan Street area Tuesday night even as a group of residents complained to city officials about how the area's drug problem was being handled.

Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones, during a City Council meeting, said the newly formed street crime unit will focus on drug sellers and buyers.

The team will work mainly in the Jonathan Street area, but also around the Westview public housing complex, he said.

"You're attacking the problem by only arresting young black men," said Kevin Lee, one of about 10 people who attended the meeting to talk to officials about problems of racial discrimination and the drug problem in the Jonathan Street area.

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Lee, of Oak Ridge Apartments, and whose mother lives in the Jonathan Street area, said it seemed police were not as aggressive about arresting those buying drugs as they were those selling them.

Discussing the crime impact team, Jones said "the light in the middle of this darkness" is that many of the drug buyers and sellers are from out of town.

Team members will spend this week warning people in the "hot spot" area that they will make arrests when there's cause and hand out citations for minor infractions.

If police think someone is double-parked for the purpose of buying drugs, a traffic citation will be issued, Jones said.

The team consists of five full-time officers and a sergeant, Jones said. The team will be supported by two detectives, a detective sergeant and two Washington County Narcotics Task Force members.

A seven-member crime team wasn't expected to hit the hot spot area until September because newly hired officers are still attending the police academy.

Areas designated hot spots because of high crime rates will receive state and federal funds to, among other things, put more officers on the street.

"We had planned to wait, but with the increase in violence we decided we couldn't wait any longer," Jones said after the council meeting.

Lee said the crime team alone isn't the answer to the problem.

Black youths need jobs and job training, he said.

Lee said when he asked some youths what it would take to get them to stop dealing drugs, their answers were a job with a decent salary and benefits.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said that goes hand in hand with education. The solution includes families teaching youths the value of staying in school so they can learn skills needed for jobs, he said.

"There are kids out there with an education. They still don't get hired," said Harry Barnett Jr., president of Brothers United Who Dare To Care.

Barnett named several local large companies that he said don't hire minorities.

Employment trainers tell people the best way to get a job is through networking, but there aren't black people at those companies to help other blacks get jobs, Barnett said.

"You are part of the problem, but you're also part of the solution," Lawrence H. Freeman told city officials. Freeman, of Hagerstown, was arrested last month while protesting the Washington County Commissioners' hiring practices.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he would look into the city's hiring practices, although city officials said they weren't aware of any discrimination within city government.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said discrimination is not limited to blacks in the community. It includes women, Hispanics and Asian residents.

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