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Community police officer making a difference

March 13, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Six months into his position as Hagerstown's community police officer Gerry Kendle is getting to know the people of the Jonathan Street area - those who care about cleaning up the crime-ridden neighborhood and those who would destroy it.

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Kendle's job is to patrol Jonathan, Church and Charles streets and areas between Potomac and Prospect streets on foot and to be available to respond to calls.

"It's been challenging and very rewarding," said Kendle, 34.

In his first three months of the job, Kendle made about two dozen arrests, most of which involved parole violations and warrants, he said.

Kendle works with the Hagerstown Street Crimes Unit during many of its drug and prostitution stings.

His position, which is part of the HotSpots Communities anti-crime initiative, is funded by a $34,000 grant and $8,500 in city matching funds.

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Supplementing regular city police patrols, Kendle keeps street corners free of loiterers, he said.

Hagerstown's influx of out-of-town drug dealers has made that part of his job a busy one he said.

"They're like cockroaches. When you leave they come right back out," said Kendle.

In addition to fighting crime, Kendle's role in the Jonathan Street area is to establish a relationship with residents by attending community meetings and regularly visiting the Memorial Recreation and Martin Luther King centers on North Street.

Ruth Ann Monroe, director of the Memorial Recreation Center, said she was glad Kendle is in the community and believes his efforts will make a difference.

Monroe said she has noticed "the corners have been cleaner" now that he's on the job.

It's Kendle's job to address "quality of life issues," according to Hagerstown Police Lt. Margaret Kline.

Kendle's regular patrols of the neighborhood give him a chance to spot code violations of which the city might not have been aware, she said.

Kline said he can help counteract the "broken window effect" on a community that occurs when code violations such as junk vehicles, broken windows or fences are allowed to go unchecked, signaling to criminals that it's a safe place to do business, she said.

"The deterioration of a neighborhood starts when people don't care," Kline said.

As he walks through the neighborhood, Kendle often is stopped by children wanting to hug him or to say hello. He keeps lollipops in his pocket for such occasions, he said.

In the future he plans to add the Boys and Girls Club to his list of stops, said Kendle.

As a former Drug Abuse Resistance Education instructor for Hagerstown City Police, Kendle knows many of the children in the neighborhood, he said.

He wants to show children the police are their allies and to provide a positive male role model, he said.

Kendle will train this week to become certified as a bicycle police officer and eventually will patrol the HotSpot area along with another bike officer expected to be hired through the HotSpots program, he said.

As community police officer Kendle helps to connect residents with various city services. He regularly goes with social workers to visit residents on parole or probation, a task that helps keep him up to date on who is in the neighborhood, he said.

Kendle's said his goal is to make sure law-abiding residents feel comfortable and safe in their community.

He carries a cellular phone so residents can call him with their concerns. The number is 301-491-0378.

"People should still call 911 for emergencies. This number is for tips or other problems," he said.

By making himself easily accessible through his cell phone, foot patrols and meeting attendance, Kendle hopes to encourage people to provide him with information about suspicious behavior or crimes they witness, he said.

"The more available I am to them the more likely they are to do it," he said.

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