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Street crime unit is hitting the 'spot'

March 16, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

Street crime unit is hitting the 'spot'

In its first month of operation, Hagerstown's new street crime unit made 102 arrests, results that police and city officials are hoping will earn the city a reputation for being tough on crime.

Of those arrests, 86 were for drug violations, which is more than half of the total drug arrests city police made last year.

"We need to get our streets clean and we need to keep our streets clean. We need to get the message out to the drug dealers from New York and New Jersey that we don't want them here," said Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

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Started Jan. 27, the street crime unit has targeted mostly high-crime areas in Hagerstown's so-called "hot spot" and the Westview public housing complex in the West End.

Though the unit's primary focus has been to combat growing drug traffic and violence, other arrests in the first month included 14 adults and two juveniles for violations other than drugs, like prostitution and theft.

The unit - made up of a sergeant, several patrol officers, two detectives and two agents from the Washington County Narcotics Task Force - also served 10 outstanding warrants and issued 10 traffic tickets in the first month, according to figures provided by Hagerstown City Police.

The unit also confiscated $9,560 in suspected drug money.

The recent surge of arrests in the hot spot has generated numerous positive comments from residents in the neighborhoods in the form of letters, telephone calls and computer e-mail to police and city officials.

"That to me is the truest measurement that we have good results," said Police Chief Dale Jones.

Comments from residents ranging from being able to sleep better because the streets are quieter, to feeling safer walking to the bus stop, are the immediate goals the street crime unit was after, said Capt. Robert Voytko.

"We're just looking at quality of life here," Voytko said.

But turning up the heat in the hot spot has caused some displacement of drug dealers and criminals who are now showing up in the east and north ends of the city, he said.

Some are moving into surrounding towns, proven by last Thursday's drug raid in Williamsport in which police said some drug dealers arrested there were well known in Hagerstown's Jonathan Street area.

"As they go, we go," Voytko said.

The volume of arrests also puts pressure on the court system and the Washington County Detention Center, which, at 430 inmates, is nearing capacity, said Sheriff Charles F. Mades.

But the street crime unit is here to stay and the county's law enforcement agencies and courts are working cooperatively to get the job done, said police and city officials.

"This is a joint effort," Voytko said.

The street crime unit was formed primarily in response to the drug activity and increasing violence in the area, including several shootings.

Police had estimated there were between 500 and 1,000 drug dealers doing business on the streets of Hagerstown just before the street crime unit was formed, Bruchey said.

"We knew they were here, but we were always shorthanded with personnel to put a strike team together," he said.

A shooting on Jonathan Street on Jan. 12 prompted police and city officials to launch the unit earlier than expected.

"We felt the need was right now," Voytko said.

To create the unit, police pulled two community police officers from the Jonathan Street area, one who had patrolled the city's public housing complexes, one officer from the canine unit and one patrol officer.

"I think the unit is doing a fantastic job. The officers are putting in a lot of hours, but it's well worth it," Bruchey said.

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