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Downtown crime

Police step up efforts

Police step up efforts

November 26, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - In the weeks before a young woman was gunned down on East Franklin Street just blocks from Hagerstown City Hall, members of a police squad devoted to downtown were turning their attention to the area.

The crackdown on crime didn't save Trisiviah Rodriguez, a 20-year-old mother, who died in the early morning hours of July 31 near 65 E. Franklin St.

Sgt. Kevin Simmers, who supervises the downtown police squad, said that with the onset of summer, the downtown squad had two priorities: Shut down prostitution on the city's west side, and enforce a policy of no tolerance toward criminal behavior of any type on East Franklin Street.

East Franklin Street was targeted because police had received a lot of complaints about criminal activity, including public drinking and drug dealing, Simmers said.

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"Soon as that girl was killed, we stepped up enforcement in that area," Simmers said.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 14, 190 violent crimes were reported in the City of Hagerstown, Police Chief Arthur Smith said.

Twenty-one of those crimes occurred in the downtown squad's patrol area, which is bounded by Walnut Street to the west, Mulberry Street to the east, Church Street and East Avenue to the north and Antietam Street to the south.

Other than Rodriguez, no one suffered serious injuries in any of the other downtown incidents, Smith said. The other incidents included reports of robbery, attempted rape and aggravated assault, he said.

Statistics provided by Smith show that the number of violent crimes in downtown has declined over the years, though computer problems make it impossible to analyze the crimes over one five-year period. In 1997, there were 41 violent crimes, including a homicide and five incidents of rape or attempted rape, downtown.

Smith and Simmers are quick to compliment the downtown squad for cleaning up the streets.

"In order for downtown Hagerstown to get revitalized, the first thing that's got to happen, the police have to take our streets back," Simmers said.

Smith called members of Simmers' squad "top-notch, arrest-oriented" officers.

What people say

In interviews over the last several weeks, residents, merchants and visitors expressed varying levels of comfort with being downtown.

"If they cleaned up Hagerstown, I wouldn't mind living here that much ... But there's a lot of drugs here, and I don't like drugs," said 44-year-old Salem Avenue resident Mitchel Le Roy, who was walking Tuesday afternoon near The Maryland Theatre.

While Le Roy said he did not believe police were doing enough to keep downtown safe, a woman with him, who asked that her name not be used, commended law enforcement efforts. The woman said, however, that she would like police to install more cameras downtown.

Jim Baker, the owner of Hoffman Clothiers on North Potomac Street, said he thinks the downtown area gets a bum rap.

"I frankly don't have a threat down here," Baker said. "Downtown Hagerstown is as safe as any place in the world - maybe safer."

Randy Samu, an Alexander House resident who is active in Neighborhoods 1st, said the shock of incidents such as Rodriguez's slaying often compels people to become more involved in the community.

A double amputee, Samu acknowledged he has little chance to defend himself, but said his group is committed to making sure the need to do so doesn't arise.

"Our main focus is safety around Public Square," Samu said. "We all use Public Square a lot. It's a nice meeting place, and we would like to keep it safe - for everyone."

Samu said he and other members of Neighborhoods 1st have volunteered to help monitor the video feed from police cameras set up throughout the downtown area.

'Cops see you'

Simmers toggled from one camera view to another during an interview in a upstairs corner of storage space at City Hall, where one monitor is positioned. On the early August evening, nothing was going on.

"Everywhere you walk around here, you're under camera surveillance," Simmers said. "Even though you may look around and say, 'Huh, I don't see any cops,' cops see you."

Between patrolling the streets and watching the cameras, the downtown squad is committed to making sure the streets are safe for shoppers, diners and business people, Simmers said. After the shooting, officers showed no tolerance for any infractions, including loitering, he said.

"Our downtown squad, we respond to everything, from someone stealing a roll of toilet paper from the library to somebody sticking a gun in somebody's face on East Franklin Street," Simmers said.

'Dubious' incidents

Not all of the incidents that happen downtown are random, Smith said.

In some of the violent incidents that happened this year, the victims were reluctant to cooperate with police, or unwilling to disclose their relationships with the suspects, Smith said.

In at least one case involving an uncooperative victim, the suspect admitted fighting over drugs about 3 a.m. in an alley near the Hagerstown Post Office, Smith said. The victim wound up getting arrested, too, he said.

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