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Major crime drops in Hagerstown

March 08, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Major crime dropped in Hagerstown during 1998, and the city's mayor attributes the decline to more aggressive police work.

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Major felonies dropped by 7.7 percent in 1998, according to recently released statistics compiled by the Hagerstown City Police Department. The numbers will be included in the Maryland Uniform Crime Report.

"It's a major accomplishment. Any decrease in crime is a plus," said Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

Bruchey attributed the drop to "more aggressive policing."

"Hopefully it will have some bearing on the streets in drying up the drug activity," he said.

The crime rate drop is the result of hard work by many people, said Captain Robert Voytko, head of the city police patrol division.

"I don't think it was one thing, but a combination of hiring 10 new officers, uniform patrol, the street crime unit and the (Regional DEA) task force. They work closely together to provide comprehensive law enforcement for the community," he said.

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According to police statistics, rapes in the city dropped by half, from 18 in 1997 to 9 last year, and homicides dropped from 4 in 1997 to 1 in 1998.

Last year's only homicide was the August shooting death of Tina Marie Vinzant by John Stephen Weir. That shooting was related to a domestic dispute.

The number of burglaries fell from 397 in 1997 to 324 last year and assaults from 167 to 149. Thefts went down from 1,139 to 1,117 and auto theft from 230 to 193.

Robberies in the city rose by four, from 93 in 1997 to 97 last year.

Hagerstown's street crimes unit was formed about a year ago in response to increasing violence and drug activity in the city's so-called HotSpot.

The HotSpot is a roughly rectangular area stretching from Prospect Avenue to Memorial Boulevard and bounded to the east and west by Prospect Street and Mulberry Street.

The street crimes unit made 355 arrests in 1998, including nearly 300 on drug charges. That compares with 218 drug arrests made by city police overall in 1997.

Special operations by the Regional DEA Task Force, along with progress by officers in the city's criminal investigation division and the regular patrol all played a role in the lower crime statistics, Voytko said.

"We're all working toward a basic, common goal - to make the streets safer," said Voytko.

"There are still periodic shootings but not as many as compared to six to eight years ago," he added.

Voytko said police continually evaluate their efforts to be as effective as possible.

Drug use and sales continue to be a major concern in the HotSpot area, according to Stanley Brown Jr., vice president of the citizen's advocacy group Brothers United Who Dare To Care, Inc.

"Jonathan Street has been getting a lot of attention by police. It is good news for the city," he said.

Reaction to the crime statistics by residents living in the Jonathan Street area was mixed.

"Are you kidding? I haven't seen a drop in crime," said Tony Powell, who lives on Jonathan Street.

Several residents who did not want to be identified said they see about the same amount of crime but feel safe in their neighborhood.

Robert Sullivan, who regularly visits friends who live on Jonathan Street, said the street crimes unit is having an impact on drug activity.

Carolyn Brooks, HotSpot coordinator, praised the efforts by city police.

The city has seen a crime decrease because they have "evaluated the types of crime and enforcement needed to take charge and be successful," she said.

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