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Residents say more police coverage may reduce crime

January 15, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - More police coverage - especially at night - is needed to curb an increasing amount of crime in Williamsport, town residents told Mayor John W. Slayman and members of the Town Council Monday.

The residents' complaints about lack of adequate police coverage came two days after Byers Market on Conococheague Street was robbed at gunpoint.

Resident Nelson Deal often has to sweep broken glass from the sidewalk in front of his Conococheague Street business, he said. Janice Enciu is regularly awakened late at night by yelling and skateboarding in the street and juveniles ringing her doorbell, she said.

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The town's charter includes a 10:30 p.m. curfew for people ages 17 and under, but it is difficult to enforce, Town Attorney Edward Kuczynski said.

"We don't need deputies in this town during the day," resident Walter Williams said. "We need them at night when the crimes are happening."

Resident Wayne Dixon is alarmed by the street fights, vandalism and other crimes that he sees happening in his hometown, he said.

"I was robbed and I don't like it. I've had vandalism and I don't like it. I see fights when I walk down the street and I don't like it," Dixon said. "Why can we not have our own police force?"

Only Hancock and Smithsburg still have their own police departments. Williamsport eliminated its town police force more than two decades ago due to cost and town politics, Kuczynski said.

"It would be nice to say, 'Let's go back to the good old days and have a police department,' but small towns these days can't afford it," he said.

Insurance coverage alone for a town police force would cost about $500,000 per year, said Councilman Tim Ammons, who serves as the town's liaison with the Sheriff's Department.

Williamsport is now served by two Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies who work staggered shifts for a total of 70 hours per week, Ammons said.

Williamsport spends between $15,000 and $20,000 a year in overtime costs for police coverage above and beyond the regular hours worked by the town's resident deputies, he said.

Nearly $60,000 of the $154,000 allotted for police services in the town's fiscal 2002-03 budget was targeted at covering the cost of a third resident deputy's salary, vehicle and other expenses.

A third police officer should eliminate overtime costs and help cut down on vandalism and other crimes in the town, Ammons has said.

On Monday, he was still waiting to hear from the Sheriff's Department when the new deputy will be hired and begin work in Williamsport. Extensive training time means it's unlikely that the officer will start before this summer at the earliest, Ammons said.

Town officials hope the additional officer will cover current gaps in service, Slayman said. Ammons will relay residents' concerns to the Sheriff's Department.

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