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Hagerstown City Police cracks down on cruisers

March 20, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Hagerstown City Police are working with businesses along the Dual Highway to crack down on people who aimlessly cruise the highway and loiter in that section of the city.

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Police are asking businesses that don't already have "no trespassing" signs on their property to post such warnings, Police Chief Arthur Smith said.

Once the signs are posted, police officers who see people loitering in parking lots can issue criminal summonses that can be punishable by a fine or other penalties, he said.

With no place to park, drivers will be forced to continue driving through town and may lose interest in cruising, Smith said.

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To make the charges stick, business owners must appear in court to testify against those who are cited, he said.

Smith said officers started enforcing the state trespass law earlier this month at a Dual Highway car wash. That law prohibits trespassing on private property that has been posted, police said.

As many as 25 people have been cited so far, he said.

Smith said police have contacted several business on Dual Highway about cooperating and have received positive responses from many.

Businesses on Dual Highway have reported that people hanging out near their establishments have harassed customers, littered, fought and vandalized their property.

"If you see 50 or 60 kids some are likely drinking and in the morning the lot is filled with trash," said Smith.

"It's a public safety issue," he said.

These problems occur during business hours but are particularly bad after hours, he said.

Smith said he expects the efforts also will reduce cruising since "the word gets around quick and the cruising crowd will stay off the lots that are posted."

Officers will target a different parking area each night to keep loiterers guessing, he said.

Every Friday and Saturday night for the past few years, employees of Taco Bell on Dual Highway have called police to ask that they clear their lot of loiterers, said Manager Tammy Monroe.

"It's a terrible problem." she said.

Those who congregate during business hours intimidate customers and those who hang around after the restuarant closes leave a mess for employees to clean up, she said.

"We've found entire cases of (empty) beer bottles," she said.

Monroe said she thinks the restaurant is losing business because of the loiterers, and will post "no trespassing" signs as police have suggested.

She said chains may be installed to prevent access to the Taco Bell parking lot after closing.

"It's out of control and I don't know why," Monroe said.

The manager at the Burger King in the Ames Shopping Center on Dual Highway said that restaurant also has a problem with loiterers.

"The profanity is bad, a lot of our customers have children," said Pat Murray.

She said teenagers hanging out in the Burger King lot have gotten into fights and have come into the store and glued the bathroom locks.

Murray said she believes all of the Dual Highway businesses need to cooperate with police if the situation is to improve.

"It's not all of them doing it (destructive things), but we need to get it under control," she said.

Mark Levine, who owns six McDonald's restaurants in Washington County including two on the Dual Highway, said he has had signs posted on his properties for several years. His signs note customers can park on the lot for only 30-minutes.

Levine said he doesn't object to people congregating on his lots as long as they are orderly. If police are going to be strict about enforcing an anti-loitering policy they need to make people who hang out aware of what is expected of them, he said.

Levine said he hasn't had any problems with loiterers and doesn't think the police's plan will put and end to cruising.

Levine said cruising is an American pastime that goes back decades and police need to remember that they, too, were young once.

"The people making policy now are the ones who were cruising years ago," he said.

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