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Police are seeking wider awareness of gang issues

March 16, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said Tuesday he wants to educate as many area residents as possible about gang activity in order to alert police about the presence of gangs in Hagerstown.

Smith said he would like to see city and county workers, mail carriers, utility workers and other residents attend informational sessions the city has been holding in order to help police crack down on gangs before they become established.

"It is much more cost-effective if we keep them from getting a foothold here," Smith told City Council members during a work session Tuesday.

In addition to more established American gangs like the Crips and Bloods, Smith said he is worried about the possibility of MS-13 gang members settling in Hagerstown. He said that MS-13, which has roots in El Salvador, is reputed to be more violent and more arbitrarily violent than other gangs.

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"That would be something we have not dealt with in the past, and that would be a negative for the community," Smith said.

Hagerstown Police Detective Todd Dunkle said he believes the city and Washington County are exposed to the possibility of MS-13 members moving here because inmates at the three state prisons outside Hagerstown are essentially left to fend for themselves once they are released. He said those prisons serve as the second largest release point for prisoners in the state.

"I think we need to use (available) grant money to send them back on a bus," Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he does not think the city has any legal right to do that. He noted the county made a tradeoff when it allowed Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, Roxbury Correctional Institution and the Maryland Correctional Training Center to be built.

"Unfortunately, friends, when you decide that the prison business is a good economic driver for our county, you get the good with the bad," Metzner said.

With the council's permission, Smith said he will try to schedule training sessions with the city's employees and attempt to widen the scope to include other workers. He said he plans to hold more community awareness sessions on the topic, such as one the department held last month at the Elgin Station Community Center.

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