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City officer monitors HotSpots

April 15, 2001

City officer monitors HotSpots



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Officer MurrayPhoto: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

As Hagerstown's newest community police officer, HotSpots residents will see Johnny L. Murray keeping an eye on their neighborhood.

Murray, 30, was hired in July 2000 to police the downtown and sections of the West End of Hagerstown as part of the second phase of the HotSpots Communities Initiative that targets high-crime communities in Maryland.

Although he is referred to as a community police officer, Murray said his job is what police work has always been, "being a resource and taking an active part of the community."

Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith praised Murray for his enthusiasm and energy.

"He's been real productive," said Smith.

Since January, Murray has logged 64 criminal arrests and 89 traffic citations, he said.

Despite Murray's arrest record, a few West End residents have complained about not seeing him enough in their area.

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Smith said Murray's beat is large and he is re-evaluating whether it needs to be more specific.

Residents in every community in the HotSpots area think their neighborhood demands more attention, said Murray.

"We have to look at it as a whole and see where resources are needed the most," he said.

The hardest part of his job is dealing with public perception, said Murray.

"We get a lot of criticism and people don't understand. We'd like to be able to put a police officer in everyone's front yard for eight hours but that's not reality," said Murray.

He wanted the community policing job because of the freedom it offered, said Murray.

"You're not tied to calls for service like patrol. On summer nights, it can be one call after the next (for uniform patrol)," said Murray.

His beat allows him to be more selective and work on bike patrol, in plain clothes, in a cruiser or by walking a beat.

He also can investigate his coverage area and target certain areas, he said.

He works closely with the city's other community police officer, Gerry Kendle, who patrols the Jonathan Street corridor.

Murray attends various community meetings in his beat area to stay in touch with residents and keep on top of their concerns, he said.

A West End Hagerstown native, Murray started his law enforcement career as an officer for Martinsburg (W.Va.) City Police in 1993.

"I always wanted to come back to Hagerstown," said Murray, who was hired by Hagerstown City Police in 1997 to work uniform patrol.

When he returned, he was struck by the decline of some areas of Hagerstown, he said.

"If a neighborhood doesn't take pride in its community, criminals will set up shop," said Murray.

The type of crimes haven't changed since he grew up in the West End, but the violence and openness in which the crimes are being committed has, said Murray, who is married and has two children.

He called Hagerstown's crack cocaine problem an epidemic that "has changed the face of crime." He explained that addicts make poor parents and will often commit other crimes like robbery or prostitution to finance their habits.

He said he is dismayed by the attitudes of a lot of the youth he encounters at work.

"So many come from broken homes where there is no respect and no morals. They have no hopes and no dreams, so I try to intervene and be as good a role model as I can," said Murray.

Murray said he reaches out to children at bike demonstrations and other community events.

"Sometimes one thank you can be worth weeks of frustration," said Murray.

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