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City police seek public's help

February 08, 2002

City police seek public's help



By MARLO BARNHART
marlob@herald-mail.com


A series of assaults and robberies in and around downtown Hagerstown has prompted police to ask for help from the public on two fronts.

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"We especially need people to be our eyes and ears when they see suspicious activity or crimes actually being committed," said Lt. Rick Johnson. "But citizens also need to avoid being easy targets for these criminals."

Johnson said that while the recent robbery/assaults are occurring a little more frequently, they haven't escalated in violence and weapons rarely are involved. Such crimes usually drop off in the winter months but that hasn't happened this year.

"Are they drug-driven? I really don't know what the motives are," Johnson said.

In the most recent incident, which occurred in Matthews Alley in daylight Jan. 31, two men approached another man, jumped him, beat him in the face, choked him and took his money, police said.

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The investigations into the current open cases indicate the suspects selected their victims because they were vulnerable, often intoxicated or in a secluded area, or both, Johnson said.

The description of the assailants in the Jan. 31 robbery and in several of the other incidents since November has been for two black males, in their late teens or early 20s, one short and one taller, Johnson said.

"We think there is a mixture of the same few individuals doing these crimes repeatedly," Johnson said.

Sgt. Steve Bussard said Wednesday that all shifts are updated on the crimes at roll call every day so officers will be on the alert.

"There is an obvious pattern occurring in the downtown area lately," Bussard said. "We are putting extra people out in plain clothes and in unmarked cars when we can spare them."

Johnson said that while the most recent robberies occurred in Hagerstown's HotSpot area, he doesn't think that indicates a failure of the program, which has been in effect since 1997 in high-crime areas of the city.

"I'm a very big supporter of HotSpot programs and feel they are effective," Johnson said. "I believe this is just a blip on the screen."

Hagerstown's original HotSpot was a roughly rectangular area stretching from Prospect Avenue to Memorial Boulevard and bounded to the east and west by Prospect Street and Mulberry Street.

In 2000, the area was expanded to include the old Fairgrounds, and more of the eastern and western sections of the city.

Funded by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, HotSpot Hagerstown targets high-risk offenders, aims to reclaim at-risk neighborhoods, protects and supports victims and works to prevent youth violence, drug use and gangs.

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

According to state figures, violent crime in Hagerstown's HotSpot area decreased from 109 cases in 1997-98 to 85 in 1998-99. More recent figures were not available.

"I think we are on the right track," said Carolyn Brooks, HotSpot coordinator. "Just stop and think what it would be like if we didn't have it."

She applauded the success of community policing.

Police ask that anyone with information about the crimes or the people who committed them contact the Hagerstown Police Criminal Investigation Division at 301-790-3700, ext. 234, or Crime Solvers of Washington County at 301-733-4141.

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