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Cops say they rely on watch groups

March 19, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Riding a bicycle on a city sidewalk may seem more a nuisance than a crime - although it is illegal in Hagerstown - but Hagerstown Police Department Downtown Commander Lt. William C. Wright III said stopping small crimes helps prevent more serious ones.

That's why Wright said he relies on members of downtown watch groups - the "eyes and the ears" of the community - to let him know about street activities of concern.

"We try to act on everything they bring to us," he said.

Wright said he wants to know what concerns people living downtown. Mostly, he said, downtown residents seem to be concerned about drug activity, groups hanging out on street corners and children skating and bicycling on walkways in front of businesses and homes.

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Sgt. Jim Robison, supervisor of the Street Crime Unit, said he deals mainly with drug problems and relies heavily on tips from neighbors.

"Pretty much all of our tips come from citizens," he said.

Wright tells downtown residents to call police if they see anything suspicious. If a person who sees a crime in progress threatens to call police, they place themselves in danger, he said. Wright said he would rather police determine whether the suspicious activity is criminal.

Hagerstown police Lt. Margaret Kline said brochures were handed out to watch groups with information about how to report crime to the police. She said when a Jonathan Street watch group was started, police set up a mock dispatching station to show participating residents how calls to police are handled.

"People should not hesitate to call," she said.

When someone sees something suspicious in their neighborhoods, she said, they can call police anonymously. More often than not, dispatchers will keep the caller on the phone until police arrive if the situation might place the person in danger, she said.

Wright said watch groups have helped police uncover drug activity and have identified people in their neighborhoods as crime suspects.

If an arrest can be made from a watch group tip, Wright said, he wants officers to make the arrest. Locking up small-time criminals can keep them from getting into big-time trouble, he said.

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