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The 'no tolerance' plan

April 27, 1999

This past Saturday's shooting of a Georgia man is the sixth firearms incident this year in Hagerstown's Jonathan Street area. So far, there have been four people wounded by gunfire and three arrests. It's not the carnage they're accustomed to in the metropolitan areas, but it's still unacceptable and should spark a debate about what to do about it.

Any discussion of the situation needs to start with an acknowledgement that major crime in the city dropped during 1998, with major felonies down 7.7 percent. There were half as many rapes in 1998 as there were in 1997 and only one murder, as compared to four the previous year.

Burglaries, assaults and auto thefts also declined. The one category to increase was robberies, but there the increase was slight, going from 93 in 1997 to 97 in 1998. The progress was accomplished after the city hired 10 new officers and formed a street crimes patrol.

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So what's the next step? Form Mayor Robert Bruchey, it's a no-tolerance crime policy, that would work on the theory that if police exhibited no tolerance for small crimes like littering, the larger crimes would decline as well.

Police Chief Dale Jones was wary about endorsing such a policy, saying he'd have to know how "no tolerance" would be defined and how long such a campaign would last. What Jones didn't say, but what must have been on his mind, is that in recent years it's been a struggle to hold down police overtime. Having officers in court for many more minor offenses would increase those costs.

It might be worth it if a no-tolerance policy could really reduce the gun violence, but making such a policy work will involve getting citizens to agree that curbing certain behaviors - like jaywalking or littering, for example - are linked to something more important.

If citizens don't buy the no-tolerance policy and don't support crime control through neighborhood watch groups and individual calls to police, the no-tolerance policy will never make the journey from the mayor's imagination to implementation on the city's streets.

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