HotSpots progam in danger

February 24, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

People in Hagerstown have begun realizing a life without HotSpots.

The HotSpots Communities program, begun in 1997, was a major tenet of then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's crime-fighting initiative. Hagerstown received $1,107,914 over the past five years, paying for new law enforcement as well as prevention programs, the program's coordinator said.

However, while officials praised the program - especially for its effect on crime around Jonathan Street - the proof it actually stopped crime is disputed. And Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made no promises to fund that program in his new administration.

The annual grant program will likely stop altogether, officials said, leaving several agencies grasping for dollars from other sources to continue the well-liked programs, and without money police could be less powerful to fight crime.


"Criminals do not broadcast where they're going be, what they're going to do. ... Otherwise, we'd have a handle on it," said Hagerstown's HotSpots Coordinator Carolyn Brooks.

While Brooks' job is on the line, she said the program has worked.

"I would hope that the new administration would look at each HotSpot community and let us defend it. ... It has had a powerful impact in our community," Brooks said.

Less means less

If the money dries up, at least three paid positions would disappear immediately.

The HotSpots coordinator would be one position to go. The coordinator's salary and the office she runs cost the state $52,000 this year.

Hagerstown isn't about to pick up the bill, said Mayor William M. Breichner.

"We're struggling right now with a $2 million deficit. ... I don't see us being able to reach into the grab-bag and pulling that (salary) out," he said.

HotSpots Coordinator Carolyn Brooks's job is basically to link the programs to the state money by writing grant proposals and managing the grants, she said.

That job is integral to the way HotSpots works because there isn't just one agency involved, she said. The money comes from a portion of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention's budget - that portion itself comes from federal and state sources.

Different agencies can apply for that money. Those applications go through Brooks, who makes sure the applications are on time; and when the applications are approved, she reports to the state how the money is being spent, she said.

In addition to Brooks' job, two police officer positions will likely be eliminated, said Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith.

The HotSpots program paid for two officers to work in the designated HotSpots area, about 500 acres of map space within the city limits. The HotSpots represents about a tenth of the entire city.

Usually, Hagerstown patrol officers are not tied down in any particular area, Smith said, which means it is difficult for the officers to get to know the community.

But the two HotSpots officers patrolled only within designated areas, which Smith said made for more constant police presence, as well as better community relations.

Smith said HotSpots provides about $80,000 a year to his police department. He said the question is: "How do we maintain these actual services?"

If the money does not come through this year, Smith said he would keep the two officers who are community-based, but probably eliminate two lower-ranking patrol positions.

This year, Bester, Fountainhead, Winter Street and Eastern elementary schools also received money for after-school programs. Those programs will likely disappear as well without money, said Bester Principal Drenna Reineck.

Reineck said there are 18 fourth- and fifth-graders in the program there. They were picked by their teachers as kids who showed potential in their classes, but for some reason weren't doing well in class.

The after-school program coordinator and two assistants spend three hours with the children working on their problems three days a week.

And once "you're not dealing with issues of discipline, you can work on issues of achievement," Reineck said.

But placing the children in an after-school program tackles another problem, Reineck said. It gives them something to do and an environment that encourages good behavior.

"These kids don't have places to go" after school, Reineck said. Most of the children at Bester's program would be going home to empty homes because private child care is unaffordable for their parents, she said.

Did crime disappear?

Officials want some of the HotSpots ideas to remain, but it is difficult to prove other parts work, people familiar with the program said.

Officials said there are two obviously worthwhile pieces of the program: a constant dialogue among public agencies about public safety; and a constant dialogue between the state Department of Parole and Probation and the local police departments.

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