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Drugs will be new chief's first target

September 27, 1999

Chief Arthur SmithBy DAN KULIN / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




Hagerstown's crack cocaine market will be newly hired City Police Chief Arthur R. Smith's first target.

Smith also said he wants to build the kind of community involvement and resident-police relationship in Hagerstown that he's leaving behind in Baltimore.

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But he doesn't know what, if any, changes he will make once he officially takes over the Hagerstown Police Department on Nov. 1.

"It's too early to say how I will deal with Hagerstown's problems," Smith said Monday.

"The first priority will be to work on the drug problem. Everything else will be organized around that," Smith said.

The crack cocaine markets in Hagerstown "should be the ultimate wake-up call," he said.

"Hagerstown's a beautiful city. Why let something like that creep in and spoil it?"

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Fighting the drug problem will be a community-wide effort in which the courts, parole and probation agencies and residents will have to get involved, he said.

"We'll need people to go to court and let the judges know that it's a priority," Smith said. "That a slap on the wrist is not enough."

Smith said the justice system may also have to help fight Hagerstown's prostitution problem.

For example, since prostitutes often have drug problems, sentences could include drug-abuse programs, drug testing and "stricter probation ... with the threat of jail time," he said.

Smith said residents should be an important source of information.

"Citizens that live in the neighborhoods see and hear more than the police," he said.

"I want police plugged into neighborhood and business groups."

As commander of the Baltimore Police Department Northeastern District, Smith, who held the rank of major, implemented a "sector management" policy, which put police officers in charge of neighborhoods.

The officers going to the neighborhood meetings were the same ones putting the handcuffs on people in their neighborhood, Smith said.

He said it increased accountability, improved communication, lowered crime and was popular with residents and eventually with the officers.

Now the policy, which he launched in 1997, is being implemented throughout Baltimore, Smith said.

"I don't know if we'll do exactly the same thing (in Hagerstown). But I want to accomplish the same thing," he said.

"I want the public and the police to work in partnership."

Smith, 49, began his career as a Baltimore foot-patrol officer in 1973, and said he still likes to work on the streets.

He likes to check out citizen complaints firsthand, he said. While investigating complaints he'll often respond, as backup, to calls in the area.

"I like to show up and back up the troops. For me that's recreational," Smith said.

Twenty people, including many city department heads, local elected officials, several residents and the media were on hand for a Monday morning press conference at which Smith was introduced.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Smith was "the person we have looked for."

"I've looked for a cops' cop and I think that's what we have," Bruchey said.

Smith, who has won praise from community, police union and political leaders in Baltimore, has impressed some Hagerstown residents.

"I think he's absolutely perfect," said Ted Bodnar, a West Franklin Street resident who in the past has called for the city to hire additional police officers.

Smith said he came to Hagerstown because he was looking for a place he wanted to live and he was looking for a challenge.

"I want to see property values improve, people moving in. I want to make Hagerstown a nicer place to live," Smith said.

"I want to make the city a place people and businesses want to move to."

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