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Local police agencies get federal, state money

July 11, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Local police agencies received state and federal money this month for programs to combat gun violence and to make school bus routes safer, but some agencies received less money than in previous years.

Hagerstown City Police and the Washington County Sheriff's Department received $63,600 from the state Cease Fire Council, which aims to reduce gun violence.

Four Washington County agencies - the Sheriff's Department, the Maryland State Police Hagerstown barrack, and the Hancock and Smithsburg police departments - will share $25,800 from the state's School Bus Safety Enforcement Fund.

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Hagerstown Police Lt. Rick Johnson said the Cease Fire money decreased by nearly half this year, from $56,800 to $29,000. City police use that money for overtime pay for violent crime investigations, he said.

"By allowing our investigators to get involved in an investigation when we find out about it, our success rates go up dramatically," Johnson said.

He said the money was used last year for 30 investigations that resulted in 26 arrests and the recovery of 19 guns.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department received $34,600, about the same amount of Cease Fire money as last year. A request for a computerized evidence-tracking system was denied.

The Sheriff's Department uses the money to pay a civilian investigator to process seized weapons, 1st Sgt. Robert Leatherman said.

For instance, Leatherman said, if someone is arrested at a home in a domestic violence incident, all firearms are seized from that home. Even if that person is not convicted of a crime, police must run each weapon through a series of checks before they can return it.

Leatherman, who also coordinates the bus safety grants for the Sheriff's Department, said the $11,000 the department received this year will be used to pay police overtime to follow buses on routes where motorists reportedly have ignored on-bus stop signs.

In the last school year, deputies followed 184 buses and issued 14 citations and five warnings for not stopping for a school bus, Leatherman said. They issued four citations and 11 warnings for other traffic infractions such as speeding.

The Smithsburg Police Department's cut was reduced by about half, from $3,000 to $1,800 this year, according to department information.

Hancock Police Chief Donald Gossage said the $3,000 he received from the state in school bus safety is money well-spent.

"It brings awareness to drivers and makes them more cognizant of school bus drivers ... and it makes it safer for the kids," Gossage said.

Hagerstown Police and Hancock Police also received federal money this year for bulletproof vests. Both departments expect the purchases to be supplemented by the state.

Hagerstown Police Capt. Charles Summers said the city will get 22 vests, replacing about one-fifth of the existing vests. The federal government is providing $7,200, the state about $5,000 and the city the remainder.

Hancock Police are to receive four vests, Gossage said. He said he expects the $2,200 from the federal government to be matched by the state.

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