Cops' surveillance cameras to catch downtown in action

June 17, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Normally, I am strongly opposed to the use of cop surveillance cameras on public streets, but it's hard to get too worked up over the Hagerstown Police Department's announcement that it will install up to 14 videocams downtown.

It's hard to get worked up because it will affect such a tiny number of residents. In fact, at any given time, cameras probably will outnumber shoppers 2-1. Might get some nice shots of the tumbleweed blowing down city streets, however.

Only in Hagerstown would shopping be regarded as a suspicious activity. "One Adam 12, see the man at 12 Public Square for possible Entering with Intent to Purchase."

Now, before I get another six memos from the Hagerstown Department of Hurt Feelings, I should point out that the cameras actually are meant to improve the downtown experience by cracking down on brawlers, drug dealers and undesirables.


I fear that if you eliminate drug commerce, the GNP of downtown Hagerstown will dip to pre-1930s Sri Lanka levels, but I suppose it's a risk you have to take.

With its city core renovation project, the downtown is looking quite attractive these days, but to get people to see it you have to assure them a good mugging won't be part of the travel package.

I've never thought Hagerstown was much of a high-crime area, but you know what they say about perceptions. Now it appears that image really will be everything - and everywhere. I hope they get my good side. Women will be going to their hairdressers and saying, "Lois, I need to really look my best, I'm going to be on Antietam Street tonight."

I also hope some poor officer isn't going to be assigned to watch these monitors 24/7. You can only watch an image of people walking around talking to themselves for so long before you start to lose it yourself.

That's my issue with downtown - it doesn't have a criminal problem, it has a weirdo problem. The riffraff on the streets won't take your wallet, but oohhh brother.

I've never formed a satisfactory response to some scruffball getting in my face and saying, "What be think I you, dad burm it? I tell them! I tell them good! You know I tell them. Next time, man. Next time. I be murphemboiler."

About the only thing to say to that is, "Uh, sir? Your pants are on backwards."

There was some controversial news on that front last week, too, as officials debated the merits of a new homeless shelter downtown. Advocates for the homeless want to build the shelter because there is a need for one, but a council member and the police chief are against the idea, calling it "unacceptable."

I don't know how I feel about this one. On one hand, a homeless shelter in downtown Hagerstown should be simple enough to build - just put a roof over Franklin Street. And really, you build where the need is. I can't see a homeless shelter getting much play in Fountain Head, for example.

But I thought downtown already had a homeless shelter. It's called the Washington County Free Library. (Just kidding, ladies - don't revoke my card).

And I thought we were trying to make Hagerstown more attractive to people who AREN'T broke and insane.

Now before you caregivers get too upset with that last statement, I should point out that believe it or not, the homeless are some of my staunchest readers. That's how I know they are insane.

But we are trying to build an entertainment and performing arts center downtown. How's it going to look if the block makeup goes: Maryland Theatre, homeless shelter. Art gallery, soup kitchen. Dance studio, meth clinic...

This is supposed to be for the performing arts, not performing winos. You can't just - waaaiiit a minute. Art? Winos? Performance? By gosh, that's it! Wino performance art.

With all those cameras downtown, we'll film the street babblers, show them on the big screen at The Maryland Theatre, tell the city folks it's performance art and charge a hundred bucks a head for each viewing. If that's not a win-win, I've never seen one.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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