Safe Streets Coalition Combines Law Enforcement Efforts
10/30/2012
WGN-AM - Online

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By C.J. LOVELACE

Sharing information is crucial for law enforcement agencies that work together to protect their communities from criminals, especially repeat offenders, according to Capt. Mark Holtzman, acting chief of the Hagerstown Police Department.

“It's been said that no police department can do it alone, and working on these collaborative efforts really helps bridge the gap,” Holtzman said.

As a way to combine efforts and share information, HPD recently became a member of an interagency program in Hagerstown and Washington County called the Safe Streets Coalition.

The coalition is made up of representatives from 15 law enforcement and community agencies, all with a goal to develop information about offenders and work to keep “priority” or repeat offenders from striking in the community again.

“Our goal here is to reduce violent crime and property crime in the county and in the city, and we think this Safe Streets model is a great step forward in making that happen,” Holtzman said.

Coalition members are appointed each year by their respective agencies and meet twice a month at HPD on Burhans Boulevard.

Funded through a grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, Safe Streets replaces the former CSAFE program in Hagerstown, which lasted about 13 years. The biggest difference from CSAFE, Holtzman said, is that Safe Streets focuses on actual offenders, not just on specific neighborhoods.

“It's community-based, and our community goes beyond the city borders out into the county,” he said. “We partnered up with the sheriff's department and other law enforcement partners throughout the community to both prioritize and identify the offenders, and then we move to apprehend them through warrant apprehension.”

The second major benefit of Safe Streets is that the state's Attorney's Office is also a member agency, Holtzman said.

“They track the offenders right from the initial arrest to ensure a high bond gets placed on them and then right straight through prosecution,” he said. “Enhanced penalties is part of this program to ensure we get the maximum out of the case itself.”

Once offenders go through the justice system, they often end up back in the community and are monitored by agents of the Maryland Department of Community Supervision, another member agency.

“The Community Supervision agents are excellent to work with, great partners and they help ease (offenders) back into the community and hold them accountable while they're here,” Holtzman said.

Focusing on Hagerstown, Holtzman said the police department recently analyzed crime statistics over the past 20-plus years, noting that both violent and property crimes in the city have shown similar “rises and falls.”

Holtzman said recent trends show violent crime down to 1988 levels and property crime rates have dropped off dramatically as well, lower than 1985 levels.

“However, for the last two years, property crimes have been increasing in our area,” said Holtzman, who noted that burglaries, robberies and thefts from vehicles were the top offenses. Jewelry, precious metals and copper are major targets, he said.

Although the slow economy could be a contributing factor, Holtzman said it's almost impossible to pinpoint the cause of the rise in property thefts throughout the county.

“I think it's anybody's guess to understand crime trends,” Holtzman said. “... Crime has a lot of factors involved in it.”

Other member agencies include the city, Housing Authority of Hagerstown, Maryland State Police, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Washington County Detention Center, Washington County Public Schools, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshal's Office and University of Maryland at College Park.

Started under Gov. Martin O'Malley in Annapolis in 2008, Safe Streets initiatives have branched out into seven Maryland cities as of July 2012.

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a total of 188 violent crimes and 1,510 property crimes were reported to police during 2011 in Hagerstown, home to a population of 40,038 people.

One murder and two forcible rapes were reported in 2011, as well as 76 robberies and 109 reports of aggravated assault.

In comparison, very few Maryland cities had more than one murder last year, except for Baltimore, which was the site of 196 reported murders or nonnegligent manslaughter cases.

As for property crimes in Hagerstown, 382 burglaries and 1,054 thefts were reported in 2011, along with 74 motor vehicle thefts and 31 arson cases.

U.S. Department of Justice statistics provided by a city official show violent crimes in Hagerstown have declined each year since 2006. The occurrence of property crimes dipped between 2006 and 2009 before rising again in 2010.