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Hagerstown police chief suggests adding day shelter for homeless

November 08, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • In this file photo, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith speaks at a press conference at the Frederick County Law Enforcement Center. Smith said Tuesday that despite the issues plaguing downtown Hagerstown, crime statistics have been improving.
Herald-Mail file photo

Augmenting a recent presentation on downtown Hagerstown by city officials, the Hagerstown Police Department Tuesday provided a look at what officers are doing in the city center.

Police Chief Arthur Smith, Capt. Mark Holtzman, Lt. Paul Kifer and Sgt. Kevin Simmers addressed the Hagerstown City Council, talking about issues ranging from crime statistics and the downtown police squad to auxiliary police and cameras.

"I remember what the downtown looked like when I got here, and compared to now, there's a lot of progress," Smith said. "It's progress, but it doesn't get us to where we want to be."

Despite the issues plaguing downtown, crime statistics have been improving, he said.

However, the latest economic downturn has led to more empty stores and fewer overall businesses in the city center, removing some of the natural surveillance and the comfort that comes when there are more people downtown, he said.

Police are working to restore that comfort, he said.

Holtzman said that the goal is for people traveling from one city block to another to encounter someone who looks like they are in public safety, whether that is a member of the department's downtown squad, the auxiliary police or the fire department.

The department's new auxiliary police — formerly known as fire police — have expanded duties, including being a presence in downtown Hagerstown, he said.

Kifer said the downtown squad only has four sworn officers, meaning there are times of the day when there is no coverage, but it still manages to be a noticeable presence at downtown events.

The public safety element that sparked the most discussion among  council members was Smith's suggestion to add a day shelter downtown to give the city's homeless a place to go during the day other than the Washington County Free library or businesses.

During a meeting with members of the Downtown Alliance, Smith said a major concern was homeless people using the facilities of local businesses.

The people who are of concern are those who are homeless by choice, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said. The city needs to alleviate the burden they pose to the library and businesses, he said.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood said she felt a day shelter was missing the mark for dealing with the city's homeless.

A day shelter only perpetuates the cycle for the homeless; it doesn't help them move forward or rehabilitate, Haywood said.

Smith said rehabilitation and career services should be part of the day shelter if the city were to create one.  

Councilman Forrest W. Easton questioned if providing the shelter would just give the homeless who come from out of the area more incentive to move to Hagerstown.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the homeless day shelter could be discussed further in a separate work session.

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