Safety is the top issue in West End meeting

April 20, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

Residents of Westview Homes and the surrounding neighborhood in Hagerstown's West End heard the same message over and over Monday night: It's up to the community to pull together to get rid of crime in the area.

"The problems at Westview aren't going to be solved by the Hagerstown Housing Authority. It's time for the residents to get involved at Westview," said Ted Shankle, executive director of the Hagerstown Housing Authority.

Nearly 30 residents from the community filed into the Westview Community Building room for the meeting with housing officials, police officers, and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

The turnout was larger then usual for resident meetings, which are held on the third Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at the community building at the corner of Buena Vista and Maine avenues.


The large turnout was attributed at least in part to an April 13 shooting in the 900 block of Lanvale Street. Several shots were fired in that incident, and one man was wounded.

Neighborhood resident Joy Gilbert, whose two children were playing 20 feet from the shooting scene, spread the word about the meeting and urged residents to sign a sheet Monday night to form a tenants association and Neighborhood Watch program.

"It'll never solve itself," Gilbert said.

Housing officials outlined how much they spend on security in the 210-unit neighborhood, the application process for obtaining housing and other methods used in an effort to insure safety.

Last year, the housing authority spent $230,363.18 at Westview Homes for uniformed security officers, overtime pay to Hagerstown Police officers and the Narcotics Task Force, among other expenses.

Increased security and a greater police presence aren't the answers to the problems in the neighborhood, officials said.

"It takes participation and it takes interest to establish a communication link between people who want to be involved and the police department," said Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones.

Some residents said the neighborhood problems can't be solved merely by reporting criminal activity. Hints of racial discrimination, social problems brought by young, single mothers, and lack of things for young people to do were all brought up at the meeting.

One resident blamed police for arresting black drug dealers but not white "crackheads" and other drug users.

"If you get hung up on the race issue you're going to lose this thing," said Hagerstown Police Capt. Robert Voytko.

He said police have to prioritize and are targeting the violence that generally is associated with drug dealers.

Other residents said they fear for their lives and that they have been threatened with retaliation for calling the police.

Christine Soots said her two sons stay inside their home and watch television because they're afraid to go outside, especially after last week's shooting. She said she'd like the city to provide a skateboard park or other safe recreational opportunities for city children.

"It's like they're living in prison," she said.

Although the residents received advice on what they could do to improve the neighborhood, some didn't appear to be optimistic about the future.

"Everybody's got to pull together, but I can't see that happening," said Catherine Smith, 29, who lives in the neighborhood and grew up there.

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