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Bruchey's crime plan has appeal

April 27, 1999

On the down side we'll have to buy new signs:

"Welcome to Hagerstown, Home of the Miss Maryland Pageant. Now Spread 'Em, Hands on the Trunk and Don't Make Any Fast Moves."

In my book, the up sides to Mayor Bob Bruchey's new "Arrest Them All and Let District Court Sort Them Out" initiative far outweigh the liabilities.

Bruchey said last week he will tell the police department to engage in a zero tolerance policy on crime, which could lead to arrests for anyone who commits an infraction as minor as tossing a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk.

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"I'm sure it will (upset) a lot of judges, and commissioners and overload the jails..." Bruchey said.

Now those are two pretty convincing arguments in favor of the new policy right there. But there are even more benefits.

The mayor says little crimes are indicative of big crimes, so a person who tosses out a cigarette butt may be just one step away from a narcotics homicide. So if we catch them early while they are still in their littering phase we may forestall greater tragedy on down the line.

Now you may say Bruchey has been reading too many Rudolph Giuliani pamphlets, and I admit when I first read about the meting out of Hagerstown Justice I had some reservations about government intrusiveness and police-state tyranny.

But it's not like we live in a free society anymore anyway, so if the mayor wants to bust the public drunks and ash-flickers I say go nuts.

Obviously we'll get a lot of arguments from the old coots who complain about taxes and new baseball stadiums - the ones whose idea of a good time is sitting on their overstuffed couches while smearing mayonnaise on slices of processed American cheese-encrusted Wonderbread during "Adam-12" reruns, and who hate the thought of anyone else getting out of the house and having any fun.

Those naysayers will complain that Hagerstown is only a short drive from neighboring states, and that if people can't throw their cigarette butts on the sidewalk here they will just take their cigarettes across the river to West Virginia and throw their butts down on Martinsburg sidewalks, costing us an untold fortune in economic revenue. To me, that's a risk we have to take, even if it leads to cigarette-butt smuggling across state lines.

I'll be honest, I'm no big fan of police crackdowns. When President Clinton said he was hiring 100,000 new police officers he didn't tell us they'd all be running radar between here and Virginia Beach. Police departments, in my book, shouldn't be permitted to run speed traps until the unsolved crime rate dips to 5 percent. If half your crimes are going unsolved and half your force is sitting by the side of the road pointing Jugs guns at passing motorists, something's wrong.

So obviously I should be opposed to a crackdown on loitering, liquoring and littering. But intellectual consistency has never been a strong point, so I offer no apologies.

It's the mayor's job to make downtown desirable so people will want to live, work and shop here. And if there's junk on the streets and howling brown-baggers on the stoops of empty buildings, good people (and by good people I don't mean Peace Corps volunteers, I'm specifically referring to people with money) aren't going to feel like the city is a safe, attractive, trendy place to be.

Of course, if you're going to have zero tolerance it has to apply citywide, not just on Jonathan Street. And to people of all ages, not just to kids. Although, frankly, kids are a good place to start. Especially those out-of-state teens who use the Dual Highway Circuit as a motorized personal ad for finding a new girlfriend.

Perhaps causing traffic back-ups isn't a criminal offense, but in the spirit of zero tolerance, let me suggest that we make it one.

You say the ACLU will object? To District Court with them!




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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