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Police chief says gang activity, synthetic drugs are crime trends in Hagerstown

August 07, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Police Chief Mark Holtzman talks about the increased use of synthetic drugs in the city at Eggs & Issues Wednesday morning at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Halfway.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HALFWAY — Gang activity and synthetic drugs are two of the more serious crime trends in Hagerstown, city Police Chief Mark Holtzman said Wednesday during a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Holtzman told about 40 people who attended the periodic Eggs & Issues event at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Halfway that synthetic drugs are replacing the plant-based variety.

Some of the synthetic drugs he mentioned were bath salts and spice, which mimic the effects of methamphetamines and marijuana.

“We’re getting calls for kids who take a break from work and go out in the parking lot and smoke a little bit of spice, thinking it’s not illegal in a lot of areas, so it must be safe,” he said. “It’s just the opposite. They get very sick, very fast.”

Holtzman said people who use spice often end up in the hospital. Most of them recover, but it’s usually a 72-hour process, he said.

Although the Maryland General Assembly has passed legislation to make certain synthetic drugs illegal, producers change the ingredients to skirt the law, according to the chief.

“I think synthetic drugs are the wave of the future,” he said. “It’s just going to get worse and worse.”

Holtzman said the city also has seen an uptick in street and motorcycle gang activity.

“We have gangs in Hagerstown,” he said. “We’ve had them for a very, very long time, and we’ll have them in the future.”

He mentioned an April shootout in the Jonathan Street area between the Bloods and Crips street gangs that left two gang members wounded.

Although gang activity in Hagerstown is rarely coordinated, that was not the case on the day of the April shooting when a gang member was “disrespected” and gathered some friends to seek retribution, according to Holtzman.

City police worked with other law-enforcement agencies to charge at least 13 people in connection with the case, he said.

Some local taverns have kept motorcycle gang activity under control by placing signs outside that prohibit  members from wearing gang colors inside their establishments, Holtzman said.

If signs of gang affiliation are not present, violence is less likely, he said.

To combat crime, the Hagerstown Police Department is using an analyst to study the people who are committing violent crimes and the places where such crimes are occurring.

“It’s focusing our efforts on the people who are causing the most problems,” Holtzman said.

The department also is fighting crime by assigning officers where they are needed most, and using overhead cameras to create “virtual gated communities,” he said.

Holtzman attributed much of the city’s crime to mental illness, and the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

“It all ties a lot into this,” he said.

Holtzman said he intends to continue to keep the residents of Hagerstown informed about criminal activity.

“You have to tell them the truth,” he said.

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