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City crime stats low

drug fight goes on

February 11, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith and other law enforcement officials said Tuesday that police continue to combat a local drug problem in and around Hagerstown, even as crime statistics remain low.

Smith said Hagerstown continues to rank among the lowest of Maryland cities in the area of serious crime rates.

"I don't think people realize how lucky they are to live in western Maryland," he said.

Activity levels are increasing for city police officers as well as for Washington County Narcotics Task Force agents who combat drug-related crimes.

Smith said that in 2003 his officers and task force officers conducted 100 searches in Hagerstown and the Hagerstown Police Department's downtown squad made 286 arrests.

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Hagerstown city police Sgt. Mark Holtzman said task force work, while still centered in Hagerstown, is increasingly moving outside the city line. Smith attributed that to city police efforts, including video cameras placed along Jonathan Street last year.

Holtzman said task force agents made 317 arrests in Washington County, compared to 250 arrests in 2002. He said the trend is that drug activity is moving into the county.

Drug dealers "change tactics, they use cell phones, they meet in public places," Holtzman said.

He said there continue to be open drug sales problems downtown, but enforcement efforts appear to be working.

"I've had the opportunity to talk to some informants. ... Some of the comments are, 'You can't buy dope downtown unless you have a contact.'"

Holtzman said in another conversation with an informant, he was told "their source of supply didn't even want to come to Maryland."

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