Police may add 24-hour cameras downtown

June 08, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith said last week that he hopes to have 12 to 14 24-hour video cameras installed in a four-block area of downtown Hagerstown by fall to help curb street crime and generally improve the quality of downtown life.

Smith said city officials have identified possible grant sources, and while the new cameras system is "not a done deal ... I'd be very surprised if we can't pull it off."

Some residents and business operators said they believe the cameras will help stave off crime, but some said the cameras are not a cure-all.


This would be the second video camera system in the city. Last winter, police installed nine video cameras along Jonathan Street that are recorded by a computer system and can be viewed by police.

Officer Gerry Kendle said last week that, over the past few months, much of the problem police were trying to halt in the area - on-street drug dealing - has disappeared.

"Word got out about the cameras, and there's really not a whole lot going on," Kendle said.

Smith said the new system will cost roughly 50 percent more than the Jonathan Street system, which was paid for by $60,000 in grants. The system cost slightly less than the grant amount.

Smith said he did not believe that drug dealers, who may have been shut down on Jonathan Street, had moved to the downtown area.

"Drug dealing's not the primary problem downtown," Smith said. "The primary problem is quality of life."

The cameras will be placed along the perimeter defined by Potomac, Franklin, Mulberry and Antietam streets.

Cameras will be used to keep an eye on Public Square, the city parking lot, the library and alleys between Washington and Antietam streets, Wright said.

Wright also said there will be a camera in front of the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center on West Washington Street. A camera behind the campus also will monitor the post office on West Franklin Street.

Wright said the cameras will help police crack down on public drunkenness, late-night assaults and drug dealing.

When police are called to a fight, he said, Everyone's telling you a different story." With the help of the cameras, he said, "we will know what happened."

"I say put 'em up," said Ellis Baker, 39, owner of Different Outlook on East Washington Street. "With as much riff-raff that's running around here, that's a given."

Regina Robin, 49, a bartender at Meda's Tavern on East Franklin Street, said she would like the cameras to be installed. When she leaves work, sometimes at 3 a.m., some people are still hanging around outside the bar.

"It scares me sometimes. ... They're violent people," Robin said.

She said she believes she has seen drug deals being conducted at the phone booth outside the building.

"You can see them making the calls," she said. "You can see them come up and meet and you can see them walk away."

Derrick Wilson, 37, of Hagerstown said cameras aren't the solution.

"All it's going to do is move this side of town to the other side of town," Wilson said. "Unless they're gonna put them all over town, it's not gonna do no good."

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