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HotSpots heroes honored, concerns aired

April 28, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A Sunday event highlighted the success of the HotSpots Communities program in Hagerstown as a way to both thank those responsible for the achievements and to warn them of a current funding hurdle, said Carolyn Brooks, the program's coordinator.

While full funding for the program's future is uncertain, Brooks is confident the efforts can continue, though perhaps with some different funding sources, she said.

"We have a lot of faith that we will be able to carry on," she said.

The 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, Brooks said.

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However, while local officials praised the program - especially for its impact on crime around Jonathan Street - Gov. Robert Ehrlich has been less supportive of it than the previous administration.

During a break in the event Sunday, Brooks said she has been told the program's budget will be slashed by at least 50 percent and likely will be given a new name.

This year the program received $260,000, with about $100,000 of that going to community policing, she said. The fiscal year ends June 30.

She is hoping to find ways for the program to continue successful efforts to fight and deter crime, possibly through donations from the private sector or other sources, Brooks said.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner, who attended the event, said the program clearly benefits the city and he hopes Brooks succeeds in finding other financial resources.

At the Celebration of Partners Working Together To Improve Our Neighborhood, plaques were given to some of those "partners," including Ballet and All That Jazz, a Hagerstown company that sponsors and helps a group of girls who have danced together for four years.

The BTJ Dancers, as the group is known, performed during the event at North Hagerstown High School. The dancers learn not only how to dance but to talk about how to avoid pregnancy and drugs, Brooks said.

The HotSpots program also funds successful after-school programs at Bester, Fountainhead, Winter Street and Eastern elementary schools, Brooks said.

Winter Street Principal Kathy Kelsey spoke Sunday about the school's after-school program, "Busy Bees," which helps students reach their full potential, she said.

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

Usually, Hagerstown patrol officers are not tied down in any particular area, Police Chief Arthur Smith has 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.

Before HotSpots, Parole and Probation acted completely separately from police. Now, the parole and police departments share information about parolees who are about to be released back into the community, and police discuss recent arrests with parole officers to see if they're in violation of previous parole agreements, Brooks said.

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