The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 11, 2013

Crime panels buoy communities | This battle requires citizen involvement

JOHNSTOWN — We don’t wish to sound like alarmists. But if you’re not concerned about crime and violence in our communities, you should be.

Not your problem? Think about this: The Pennsylvania State Police’s annual crime report says that someone becomes the victim of a violent crime every 11 minutes.

That scary statistic was part of the message state Sen. Lisa Boscola of Bethlehem brought to Johnstown last Thursday. She and Westmont’s John Wozniak headed up a Senate roundtable hearing on crime and violence.

We commend them and others who offered input or were on hand to show support and concern.

For our region, the panel’s appearance bolsters the monthslong work of the Johnstown Drug and Crime Commission, whose efforts have been particularly welcome.

Reasons are many for our distressing, even depressing, situation: A struggling economy, illegal drugs, influx of undesirables, a faulty education system. Perhaps there are others.

Answers are just as many: Money, additional law enforcement, better education, psychological evaluation, individual therapy – and a populace committed to getting involved. Again, perhaps there are others.

Obviously, a heroin trade has been a particularly thorny issue for Johnstown, as explained by Detective Sgt. Tom Owens.

Heroin selling for as little as $3 to $5 on the streets of Philadelphia has brought as much as $30 in the city’s neighborhoods, Owens told the panel.

“I think (the session) reinforced  a lot of things we knew,” Wozniak said. “Small cities are not immune from the crime and gang violence plaguing larger cities. If anything, these smaller cities are becoming more attractive to these criminals.”

That’s very worrisome.

Bringing the state discussion into the community was an important step,” Marion Spellman, president and CEO of the local and very successful Peniel Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, said.

“It means we are taking our cities back. I do not see us as helpless. I am thrilled about this event. I am confident there is a solution.”

Her words are inspirational. They exude the kind of confidence and enthusiasm we all need to invest in.

We are eager to hear and read about the findings and suggestions in the soon-to-be released report of the city’s drug and crime panel.

We also are encouraged by the mission of the Senate panel as it talks to citizens in cities throughout Pennsylvania.

Putting a collar on the state’s growing incidence of crime and violence, which have come to realize hasn’t bypassed our region, is a battle we all must wage.

And if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

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