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Abandon the HotSpot?

April 16, 2003

Last July the Rev. James Irvin, president of the Washington County chapter of the NAACP, gave a speech at Hagerstown's Wheaton Park in which he charged local government with ignoring the needs of the black community.

Government officials responded with a mixture of irritation and puzzlement, with County Administrator Rod Shoop saying the county government hadn't heard from the NAACP in years.

Whether or not it hears from the NAACP now, local government needs to seriously consider how to save the best parts of the HotSpots Anti-Crime Initiative.

The HotSpot program came to Hagerstown in 1997 as part of a statewide program championed by then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend. It brought new police, probation officers and after-school programs designed to keep the next generation out of the clutches of crime.

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But the program lost its champion with the election of Gov. Robert Ehrlich, whose pick for head of the Maryland State Police had derided the program while working as Baltimore's police commissioner.

Has the program been effective here? A year after it began, police reported a 20 percent drop in crime within the HotSpot area. Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, who came here from Baltimore, has praised the program for getting different agencies like the police and parole officials to work together.

In February we said that if the Hagerstown and Washington County governments couldn't save the program, they should at least commit to continue the services it provides.

Sad to say, officials of both governments now say that money is tight and they can't help. That's not good enough; we're talking about finding $250,000 (or less) in two proposed operating budgets of $143 million and $84 million.

If officials of Hagerstown and Washington County want to abandon the HotSpot's citizens to the drug dealers, they should say so. We still wouldn't like it, but at least it would be honest.

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