- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Video surveillance cameras along downtown Hagerstown streets are driving drug dealers indoors, city police say.

“People used to be lined up two and three deep waiting to get served” on certain public streets, Officer Dave Russell told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

But since the city of 37,000 began installing the cameras at about a dozen locations nearly two years ago, the drug trade has been moving into apartments, police said.

In addition, more dealers are limiting their business to established customers and shying away from strangers, Officer Russell said.

“You just can’t walk up to Joe Blow and buy a 40-piece or 50-piece anymore,” he said, referring to $40 and $50 pieces of crack cocaine.

Police Chief Arthur R. Smith called the changes a small victory, resulting in less chance of injury to innocent bystanders.

The city activated the downtown cameras in September along several blocks around City Hall. The first were installed in early 2003 along Jonathan Street, just north of the downtown area, after a series of crimes that included a fatal shooting.

The cameras can focus on objects as much as 500 yards away. From a room at City Hall, police can keep watch through a computer monitor, a 42-inch flat-screen television and a high-tech control board.

Chief Smith and his officers traced much of the local drug trade to dealers from New York City who have learned to make bigger profits with less hassle by selling crack cocaine in small, relatively quiet cities like Hagerstown.

Officer Russell and Officer Tom Langston said a “rock” of crack cocaine that sells in New York for about $7 generally can fetch $40 or $50 in Hagerstown.

“The markup is incredible,” Officer Langston said.

Chief Smith said several shootings in the city during the past several years have involved a New York transplant. At least one New Yorker was charged in each of three murders in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

Despite the police crackdown on drug dealing, Chief Smith said, drug crime stems mainly from the demand for illegal substances.

“As long as you have someone looking for drugs, someone will be there to supply it,” he said.

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