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Watch groups support central booking

July 01, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Members of some Hagerstown area neighborhood watch groups say a central booking facility in Washington County would help rid the city's streets of crime, and they want elected leaders who would be responsible for bringing such a center here to take their concerns seriously.

The facility, proposed for the Washington County Detention Center, would handle the processing of arrests for police departments in the county, allowing officers to get back to their patrol duties faster.

Crime watch groups say that would allow police to make more arrests in less time, a claim backed by Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith.

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Smith said officers sometimes choose not to make arrests because of the lengthy process.

Without central booking, Mary Haines, of the Valencia Neighborhood Watch of the North End, said police are trying to do modern-day policing by using outdated methods.

"We're going to be in everybody's face, because it's just unacceptable..." Haines said. "The only way that the wheel is going to get moving is if those of us who can keep squeaking at the top of their lungs."

Currently, the arrest process usually takes more than two hours, because officers must complete the necessary paper work, wait for a District Court commissioner to be available to set bail and then transport the person arrested to the Detention Center, police officials said.

Officers often must decide whether making an arrest would be worth the time they would be off the streets, thus decreasing manpower, Smith said. "They have to curtail their arrests," Smith said. "It ties us up in knots."

With a central booking facility, officers could make arrests and be back on the streets in half an hour, Smith said.

He said officers would make more arrests, because they wouldn't have to worry about the process keeping them from their patrol duties.

For example, Smith said, city police have made 100 arrests in the last several weeks. That number could have been doubled with a central booking facility, he said. The Hagerstown Police Department made about 3,500 adult arrests last year.

"We need it really bad. We really do," said Bob Nigh, head of the Fairgrounds Crime Watch.

"If this is going to put the police back out on the street faster, I'm for it 100 percent," said Tom Lowman, of the We Care Neighborhood Crime Watch. "We should've had something like that long before now."

Capt. Rob Turano, commander of the Maryland State Police barrack in Hagerstown, said a central booking facility not only would speed up the arrest process, it would make available to police departments a database of arrest information.

Turano had served as commander of the Frederick barrack. Frederick County has had a central booking facility for several years.

Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades has said a central booking facility would cost $1.5 million to $2 million, with up to half of the cost possibly coming from the state. The City of Hagerstown and Washington County would share the remaining costs.

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