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Dividing city to improve police service

April 27, 2001

Dividing city to improve police service



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith has instituted a sector commander program that divides the city into three patrol sections headed by separate commanders.

Sector management is designed to give residents one officer to talk to about continuing problems instead of them having to explain the history of the problem to each officer they encounter, said Smith.

The program got off the ground Feb. 3. Smith used the sector management concept in Baltimore when he was on the police force there. His assessment of the program's success in Hagerstown over the past 12 weeks: "So far, so good."

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The section commanders are on call 24 hours a day. They can be reached at 301-790-3700, Smith said. They include:

-- Lt. Margaret Kline, downtown.

-- Lt. Tom Alexander, Northeast/Northwest section.

-- Lt. Jack Hall, Southeast/Southwest section.

Smith said the sector system provides for continuity of service.

For example, he said, a resident might call police about a dispute and then not need help again until months later. By then, the officers who responded to the first call likely would have rotated to another of the three shifts the police department works.

A police officer with no knowledge of the past complaint would have to retrace the first officer's steps to obtain enough information to get a clear picture of the situation, he said.

Having officers know the background of repeat situations in their sectors helps them gauge the urgency of some problems and makes things easier on victims, he said.

It's his goal to prevent complaints from being lost in the shuffle that occurs when shifts change, he said.

"It's a way of getting police more directly involved in the community," he said.

The sector commanders will have pagers and cellular phones on which residents can call them directly, Smith said.

The police department now has one sergeant working a permanent midnight to 8 a.m. shift, freeing the sector commanders from having to work that shift.

They can, therefore, work their 40 hours on the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight shifts and be more accessible to residents.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said "it's a great idea," because it will make police more accountable.

Bruchey praised the chief for bringing innovative ideas about policing to Hagerstown.

Each of the sector commanders will attend community meetings to be accessible to the public and hear the concerns of residents in their areas, said Smith.

"When you split the town up it becomes more manageable," said Smith.

Police arrested a man in the North End recently on burglary charges after receiving a tip from a woman living in the area.

"She didn't know his name but referred to him as the red-headed boy," said Smith.

Smith said the sector commander knew who she meant and understood the importance of her call from their past conversations.

"It's already paying dividends," he said.

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