'Hot spot' meeting draws cool response

March 11, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

'Hot spot' meeting draws cool response

Bethel Gardens resident Arlene Meadows said she used to be scared to walk up to the bus stop at 5:30 a.m. to go to work because she had to pass by groups of drug dealers out on the streets.

But since the Hagerstown Police Department's street crime unit has begun targeting criminal activity in the so-called "hot spot," Meadows said she doesn't see as many people hanging out on the streets and believes the effort is having an impact.

But residents in the high-crime area can't depend solely on police efforts to reclaim their neighborhood, which was the thrust behind a summit on community violence held Wednesday night at the Bethel Gardens center on Henry Avenue.


Sponsored by Potomac Street Community Health Center, Washington County Sheriff's Office, and the City of Hagerstown, the hour-long meeting was set up for residents to learn how to make their neighborhood safer.

Four guest speakers at the meeting had an audience of only three people who live in the affected area, which in itself became a topic of discussion.

"It concerns me that only three people showed up. I just wish there were more of you," said J. Wallace McClure, a member of Hagerstown City Council.

Charles Messmer, who spoke for the Washington County Sheriff's Department, said the lack of attendance was disappointing.

A lot of residents are afraid to get involved, a problem the community neighborhood watch groups face, Meadows said.

Meadows said she attended the meeting because she wants to see the neighborhood cleaned up and made safe for her grandchildren to play.

"I'm sick of it," said Meadows' daughter, Pam, who accompanied her mother to the meeting.

It's not uncommon to be approached by groups of people selling drugs while you're on the street or waiting in a car at traffic lights, Pam Meadows said.

Hagerstown Police Sergeant John Ryder said residents should call police if they see something going on and he reminded them that they can report criminal activity anonymously.

"We need your help. There's no doubt we need the community's help," Ryder said.

Police are up against young and aggressive people, most of whom are from out of state and have a lot of money, Ryder said.

Rock cocaine, a smokable form, is the drug of choice on the streets, but most offenders coming into the Washington County Detention Center are addicted to more than one substance, Messmer said.

Dr. Sandra Fowler, medical director at the Potomac Street Community Health Center, said the health center planned the meeting because it is seeing more patients with anxiety-related disorders she believes are caused by problems in the neighborhood.

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