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City might impose fines for nuisance calls

September 20, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Repeated bar fights and other "nuisance" calls to the police soon might result in fines for property owners.

The city of Hagerstown is considering charging as much as $500 for persistent calls of disturbances such as loitering, drug use and loud noise.

The ordinance proposes minimum numbers of "qualifying" calls in a six-month period before properties are considered nuisances: 10 for residences, 20 for businesses and 25 for multifamily properties.

A qualifying call is defined as "certain conduct of the owner, tenant, occupant, patron, guest, or other person present with the implied or express permission of the owner ..."

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Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said officers would use common sense in deciding which calls qualify.

For example, a bar owner may call the police to keep out a patron who was banned. But, a bar to which police are frequently called because of fights might qualify as a nuisance, Smith said.

The proposed fines are $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for third and subsequent offenses while a property is considered a nuisance. A fine would be treated as a lien on the property.

Smith said his department would send warning letters to property owners as their qualifying calls build up.

City Attorney Mark Boyer said fines may be appealed.

In Maryland, only the Carroll County town of Union Bridge has a similar nuisance call ordinance, Boyer said. St. Paul, Minn., also has one, he said.

"It's only a qualifying call if the owner could have or should have controlled the conduct," Boyer said.

After hearing specifics Tuesday at a meeting, Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said domestic violence calls should be excluded.

Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean agreed, saying that victims of crimes in their homes shouldn't also feel victimized by the criminal justice system.

The proposed list of disturbances in the ordinance includes assault, drug possession or sale, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, liquor law violations, littering, loud noise complaints, loitering, prostitution, public urination, indecent exposure and undesirable intoxicated or suspicious people.

Assault is on the list because of a tavern known as a place people go to fight each other, Smith said.

Metzner suggested including assaults at commercial properties, but excluding assaults at residential properties.

Smith said the police department hopes to cut down its number of calls, which would allow officers to spend more time on patrol.

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