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Unless people feel safe,downtown won't prosper

July 03, 2003

In the second installment of her series on possible solutions to the problems facing downtown Hagerstown, The Herald-Mail's Tamela Baker quotes city officials and police as saying that there's not really a crime problem downtown, but the perception that one exists.

Compared to Baltimore and other large cities, Hagerstown's crime problem is not enormous. But neither is it non-existent.

In late June two people were shot on East Franklin Street at 9:27 p.m., in a case in which the shooter is still at large.

It is the first shooting downtown in a long time, according to Lt. William Wright III, commander of the city's new Downtown Squad. Yes, but it comes at a particularly bad time.

Working in partnership with the Greater Hagerstown Committee, the city government is now working on a plan to renovate entire blocks downtown.

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Either by demolishing old properties and building new ones or renovating what exists there now, Greater Hagerstown's aim is to create market-rate housing for purchase by people who would have disposable income.

Not only would that improve the city's tax base, but it would also bring in a new group of residents to advocate for downtown and agitate for improvements there.

But the nicest homes in the world will not persuade those who believe that living downtown would put their lives at risk. Public safety is an essential city service and if persuading people to come downtown requires all-night foot patrols on downtown streets, then that's an investment the city must make.

The alternative is to watch those residents who can afford to leave will "vote with their feet." The Downtown Squad has done good work, and if it needs more officers and resources to do a better job, then that's what it must get.

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