Western Heights residents complain about rowdy youths

Hagerstown police chief says solution must involve neighborhood, police and parents

Hagerstown police chief says solution must involve neighborhood, police and parents

August 05, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- It will take parents' cooperation, neighborhood vigilance and police presence to rein in a group of middle school students who have been tormenting the Western Heights neighborhood by stopping traffic, damaging vehicles and causing other mischief after school, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said at a community meeting Wednesday night.

About 20 residents attended the 6:30 p.m. meeting at Western Heights Middle School, which was facilitated by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, at the request of frustrated residents and business owners.

Western Heights principal Stephen Tarason, Washington County Public Schools safety and security specialist Steve Ganley and Western Heights School Resource Officer Martin Pitsnogle were also at the meeting.

Residents said they were fed up with the behavior of the middle school children who flood their neighborhood after school. The students stand in the middle of the streets, fight in alleys, loiter on private property, urinate on houses, tease dogs and shoot rubber bands, residents said.


Scott Hoffman, who owns a performance car shop on Marshall Street, said students have scratched vehicles on his lot and walked on the roof of a car, denting the roof.

"My major concern is the lack of respect for other people's property," he said.

Marshall Street resident Bill Walter said students stole his political campaign signs and, once, a group of about 10 of them stopped his van in the street.

"They stood around my van waiting for me to say something or do something," Walter said. "There's no reason I need to suffer that kind of embarrassment or disrespect."

Other concerns included littering and foul language.

"It's like a bunch of sailors getting out," Hoffman said. "The language is terrible."

Smith said Hagerstown Police have dealt with similar problems in the past and have learned the best strategy is to involve the troublemakers' parents, using the juvenile justice system to get through to them if necessary.

When school starts in the fall, the school will send a letter to parents letting them know that their children's behavior as they are leaving school will factor into disciplinary action at school, Smith said.

Police will charge the students in juvenile court whenever possible, which will require their parents to go in for a meeting with a juvenile authority.

"If we make 'em go over there over and over, their parents get sick of that," Smith said.

Police officers cannot arrest someone for a misdemeanor not committed in the officer's presence, but if a witness is able to identify the suspect, police can make a "paper arrest," which will require that suspect to appear in juvenile court.

Smith and Lt. Mark Holtzman, the department's patrol and operations commander, encouraged area residents to note the description of students they see committing crimes and take pictures, if possible. If a resident can point out which student committed a crime or identify the student in a yearbook, police can pursue a paper arrest, Smith said.

Holtzman said residents should not let fears of having to testify hold them back from reporting students' behavior, especially if they have a photo or video that can speak for itself.

"The chance of having to testify in court on a mailbox getting bent is about zero," he said.

Smith said another key strategy will be having the school resource officer ride or walk around the area as school is letting out.

"These kids feel secure doing what they're doing as long as they don't see anyone who knows them," Smith said.

Tarason said he and the school's assistant principal would walk around the area after school.

Many of the students causing problems in the past were students who were supposed to ride buses, but stayed behind and walked home, Tarason said. Last school year, the school began requiring a note for any bus rider to walk home, and that policy will continue this year, Tarason said.

Tarason said Western Heights has many outstanding students, and those causing trouble represented probably only 25 or 50 of the school's approximately 700 students.

Area residents may contact Pitsnogle at 301-766-7413, Tarason said.

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