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HotSpots makes good start

April 10, 2001

HotSpots makes good start



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's high-crime area has changed for the better in the four years since receiving the HotSpots Communities Initiative designation, but more needs to be done, according to some who live and work there.

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"It's had a positive impact," said Cathy Dotson, manager of Bethel Gardens housing development off Jonathan Street.

The Hagerstown City Police Street Crimes Unit has been aggressively targeting street-level dealers and has been conducting drug and prostitution stings three to four times a week, and it shows, Dotson said.

"It goes in spurts, but it's not as bad as it was four years ago," said Dotson.

Introduced in 1997, the HotSpots Communities Initiative targets high-risk offenders, aims to reclaim at-risk neighborhoods, protects and supports victims and prevents youth violence, drug use and gangs.

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The intent is to promote crime-fighting efforts through a joint effort of police, community groups, parole and probation agents and after-school programs.

"I'm amazed at how things have changed. By some people's definition they are baby steps but I'm seeing great strides," said Carolyn Brooks, HotSpots coordinator.

With the cooperation of Verizon, a pay phone at the corner of Jonathan Street and North Avenue was removed, Brooks said. The phone had been used by suspected drug dealers, she said.

She credits HotSpots with getting the Martin Luther King Center/Head Start school designated a "Drug Free School Zone," which results in stiff sentences for those convicted of drug crimes committed in the vicinity of the school.

Annual community cleanups, stricter code enforcement, the startup of the CHARACTER COUNTS! program and various after-school programs were made possible through HotSpots, Brooks said.

Hagerstown's original HotSpots area ran from Prospect Avenue to Memorial Boulevard, Burhans Boulevard to Mulberry Street.

The designated area later was broadened to include portions of the West End including West Washington and West Franklin streets and West Side Avenue to Church Street, said Brooks.

Franklin Street resident Vicki Bodnar said she's seen more police officers walking the streets and believes that has helped to deter crime.

"The police are able to get to know the business owners and people who living there," said Bodnar.

As part of the initiative, two community police officers were hired to patrol the HotSpots area.

Officer Gerry Kendle patrols the Jonathan Street area and Officer Johnny Murray is assigned to the downtown and West End.

West End residents Joe Imes and Adria Spikes say their section of the HotSpots area is getting short shrift.

"I'm not saying they're not doing a good job. But more emphasis needs to be placed on the West End," said Imes, who heads the West End Against Trouble Crime and Harassment group.

Speeding remains a problem and juveniles who appear to be using drugs and alcohol are congregating in his neighborhood, he said.

Spikes said she has noticed that speeding has decreased because of increased enforcement but property thefts and vandalism are occurring.

Police have been listening to the public's concerns and will evaluate whether Murray's focus needs to be reduced to one particular neighborhood, said Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith.

"He'll have to go where the problems are," said Smith.

The HotSpots area will improve over time if the community is dedicated, said Brooks.

"We want the message to get out there that you don't have to be afraid to have an address in the HotSpots. HotSpots is an opportunity for people who want to see change come," she said.

Those who live in neighborhoods with less crime also need to support the HotSpots initiative, she said.

Criminals will prey on the weakest portion of society if we let them, according to Brooks.

"There's no tag line on the Hagerstown exit that says 'come to Jonathan Street,' but they (criminals) find it," she said

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