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City gets high marks on low crime index

April 26, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The head of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Hagerstown's police chief said they knew serious crime in the Hagerstown metropolitan area was low, but they were pleasantly surprised to find the city's crime index ranked in the top 15 best in the country.

"This is good news. This is really positive for Washington County," said Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the bureau.

A study based on FBI crime statistics for 2002 and released by the Web site Sterling's Best Places said the greater Hagerstown area ranked 15th among 117 metropolitan communities with populations ranging from 55,000 to 200,000.

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The study tracked Part I crimes, which include murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft and motor vehicle theft, and concluded Hagerstown's crime index was 2,648 per 100,000 residents. The study said State College, Pa., was ranked first with a crime index of 2,040, and Topeka, Kan., was ranked last among the smallest metropolitan areas, 7,355.

Sterling's Best Places, developed in 1985 by Bert Sperling, has analyzed demographics, preferences and the selection of "Best Places" to live, work or retire, among others, the Web site says. It says several media outlets, including Money Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, have used Sterling's studies for publication.

Riford said being in the top 15 should translate into strong tourism numbers as early as this year.

"I think when people are looking to go someplace, especially families, and they see it's among the safest places in the country, tourists will be coming to Hagerstown and Washington County," he said.

Riford said he found out about the ranking about two weeks ago and quickly contacted Hagerstown Police Department Chief Arthur Smith.

Smith called the news a "pleasant surprise."

Smith said the low crime index was a combination of several factors, and that police are "just one part of the equation."

"Here in Hagerstown, we get a lot of help from the public," Smith said. "We can get witnesses, which in this day and age is impressive and refreshing."

He also said efforts by the State's Attorney's Office and judges are key to deterring crime.

Smith cautioned that the study of Part I crimes does not include the city's biggest crime problem - the drug trade.

"I don't want to give the impression we can declare victory yet," he said. "We're still engaged in a battle with the drug dealers."

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