The recent rise in violent crime has hurt our region in many ways that are difficult or even impossible to put into numbers. It spreads fear among our people and causes a longing for safer times. It destroys our confidence in our residents and our region. And it changes the way outsiders look at a city that used to be known for being “Friendly, safe and clean.”
But the spike in homicides is also taking a toll on Cambria County in a way that can be calculated: It’s hurting the bottom line.
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan is already $11,100 over budget for court costs and she still has $30,000 in outstanding bills, according to a story by reporter Kathy Mellott on Sunday.
While the number of minor crimes is down, according to Callihan, homicides are on the rise. She said that the county averages between three and five homicides per year. There
are currently 12 homicide cases pending in Cambria County.
We’re hopeful that the surge in violent crime slows, but with more than four months remaining in the calendar year, there certainly is the potential for more costly cases. Not that Callihan can afford to skimp on a homicide case.
“You can’t put a price tag on justice,” she said. “Cost can’t ever really be a factor for me, because I want to protect the public.”
She’s certainly right on that account. We’re all for limited spending and saving a taxpayer buck whenever possible, but we can’t afford to try to cut corners when it comes to crime. We believe that’s part of what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. The city of Johnstown – where half of the pending homicide cases happened – has tried to cut its police force to the bare bones, and the department is simply overwhelmed at this point.
Instead of paying to fight crime, we’re now paying to prosecute it. And it’s not just the people of Johnstown but of the entire county who are paying for it.
“We have to look at the cost of all of this and what it’s going to do to our county,” said Douglas Lengenfelder, Cambria County’s president commissioner. “It costs on so many levels, the taxpayers, society.”
And even if the shootings and stabbings were to stop today, we could be paying for the recent crimes for years to come. In a second Mellott story, local business experts talked about how Johnstown’s worsening reputation could keep companies from coming here.
“The crime rate is one of the main demographics a company looks at,” said Ronald F. Budash, who retired several years ago as executive director of the Cambria County Industrial Development Authority.
Budash and John McGrath, who annually helps prepare the Economic Climate Study for the Greater Johnstown Cambria County Chamber of Commerce, said that a low crime rate used to be one of the main factors that made our area attractive to prospective businesses.
Now it’s just one more way that crime could prove very costly for us.