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Preserve HotSpot services

February 26, 2003

Five years ago the State of Maryland launched the HotSpots anti-crime initiative, which state officials described as a completely new approach to fighting crime.

State support was only supposed to last three years, but continued until the defeat of the program's champion, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Now local officials have to decide whether to fund HotSpots, or let it die. Their decision must take into account the positive difference this program has made in the city's black community.

In 1998, a year after Hagerstown's Jonathan Street area was designated as one of the first 36 HotSpots, city police reported a 20 percent drop in crime there.

That was due in part to the launch of a new street crimes unit, but Police Chief Arthur Smith also credited the fact that grant-funded officers can stay in the area and concentrate on getting to know who lives there - and who doesn't belong.

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Smith also said the program helped create a good working relationship between police and parole and probation officers. Police now get familiar with parolees in the area and can apprehend them more quickly if they commit new crimes, Smith said.

The effect of other HotSpot programs is harder to measure. In January, Washington County School Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said that the local system hadn't established a link between the HotSpot after-school programs and improved academic performance.

But Morgan said research shows that such programs do work, adding that if HotSpot is cut, those services need to continue.

Finally, the HotSpot program is one of the few efforts funded by local government to improve life in the city's African-American community. It is true, as Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner said, that the city is facing a $2 million deficit.

But in tough times, one of government's duties is to make sure the most vulnerable citizens don't get lost in a flurry of budget cutting. If city and county officials can't save this program, they must at least pledge to continue the services it now provides.

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