bob maginnis - 1/1/02

January 10, 2002

Fight against crime goes high-tech

For more than four years now, Joe Imes and the members of Hagerstown W.A.T.C.H. have been working to make the streets of the city's West End safe, with the telephone their only weapon. Now, thanks to a gift from a local computer expert, their war against crime is going high-tech.

Imes, who's been a West Ender since he bought a house from his grandmother there more than 25 years ago, says he often spends hours each night on the phone, talking with folks concerned about what's going on in their neighborhoods. It's a personal form of communication, but with it Imes can only link up with one person at a time.

That all changed about a month ago, when the group launched, a Web site designed by Gail Talmadge, a legal secretary who also owns Alexander Products, a design firm that, among other things, runs a virtual mall.


Talmadge donated her work for the site because, she said, "Joe's my hero."

Tamadge, who moved here from Washington, D.C. to buy her first house, said that when she arrived, there was a problem with "gangs of kids running around."

Imes' group helped deal with that, Talmadge said, but it wasn't until after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that she was prompted to do the Web site.

"The Web site was kind of inspired by President Bush," Talmadge said, adding that after the attack, Bush gave a speech telling citizens what they could do to help, not just nationally but locally. One of the things the president mentioned, Talmadge said, was getting involved with a local neighborhood crime watch.

Because Talmadge continued to commute to her job in Washington, D.C., she said she often got home too late to do much with Imes' group. But after the president's speech, she said, "I thought that this was something that I could do."

The site includes a short history of W.A.T.C.H. and a number of other features, including a section called "Most Wanted," which lists descriptions of suspects in local crimes and mug shots of fugitives sought by the Washington County Sheriff's Department, the Maryland State Police and the FBI.

There is also information about upcoming events, like National Night Out and the group's monthly meetings, held the second Sunday of every month at the Salvation Army office on George Street from 7 to 9 p.m.

You can also reach the Web page by going to Talmadge's virtual mall at

Imes, who says the site has had about 175 "hits" in the past month, hopes that traffic will increase once the word gets out. He also foresees being able to share much more information this way.

"You would be surprised what could be put on there for the benefit of the community," he said.

Asked if the work of W.A.T.C.H has had a positive effect on the community, Imes said that under new Police Chief Arthur Smith, "we have gotten a lot more cooperation," an improvement he credited in part to former mayor Robert Bruchey.

"We still do have some problems, but I'd say it has improved," Imes said.

If you have a comment or suggestion for the group, e-mail Imes at

When I heard that the rumor that Washington County School Board member Bernadette Wagner had met with a group of North End residents at her home to talk about redistricting, my first reaction was "so what."

Elected officials have been meeting with individual constituents, or groups of them, for as long as there have been politicians. How should they find out how people feel? By reading tea leaves?

Now if the entire board had met with a group without any public notice, I'd have a problem with that. One member by herself can't make a decision and meeting citizens to get their input is a legitimate function of the office in my view.

However, Wagner says the meeting didn't take place and berated those who she said are spreading the rumors.

This is one downside of holding public office, that those disagree with you will sometimes not be honest enough to tell you that to your face. They hide in the weeds and dish the dirt, hoping to preserve their access to the office-holder for some favor they might need in the future.

Such behavior is one reason good people hesitate to run for election. The hoped-for honest debate about issues is replaced with rumor-mongering, character assassination and anonymous innuendo. It would be a rich comeuppance for such people if office-holders never asked them their opinions about anything.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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