The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 4, 2013

City residents air concerns to crime panel

JOHNSTOWN — From nuisance problems, such as having rocks and litter thrown into a yard, to acts of life-threatening violence, citizens from Johnstown’s West End and other neighborhoods presented their concerns about local criminal activity to the city’s Drug and Crime Commission on Thursday.

One woman recalled a night when her television and other items were stolen from her residence while she slept. Several people among the two dozen attendees inside Christ the Saviour Educational Center on Garfield St. told about witnessing drug deals.

Others talked about wanting increased police patrols. Crime in public housing and Section 8 rental units, out-of-town drug dealers coming to the city and concerns about halfway house residents spending hours unsupervised downtown were all discussed multiple times.

Shootings and robberies were addressed, too.

The meeting, which lasted a little more than 90 minutes, provided commission members with a chance to hear those concerns firsthand.

In turn, the information will be integrated into a report the commission plans to provide to City Council later this year. It will contain suggestions about how to reduce drug dealing, violence and other crime in the city.

“It was really good to hear these fresh ideas and to hear firsthand what the people in these neighborhoods are dealing with,” said Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan, who filled in for First Assistant District Attorney Heath Long, a usual member of the commission.

“I know, in my job, I can see by the police complaints that are filed what’s going on crime-wise in the county. But I got a better picture and a better understanding here of what people are dealing with daily in their neighborhoods that maybe is not charged as a crime, but concerns them.”

The gathering also provided individuals, such as Callihan and Johnstown police Chief Craig Foust, with a chance to explain the specific steps their organizations take to fight crime.

Several commission members encouraged citizens to be active in helping to reduce crime by reporting suspicious behavior and being involved in their communities.

“It’s a start for citizen involvement in some of the issues that are occurring in the neighborhoods,” said Foust.

“As police officers, we live in many different sections of the city. Obviously, the

people who live in those areas know

them better than what we do, just by patrolling it eight hours a day. So we certainly appreciate their insight into incidents that are occurring. We need their cooperation to get anything done. It’s a wonderful thing.”

State Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, the commission’s chairman, added, “I think it’s important for people to understand what’s going on because, if they do, they’re more likely to participate and make the situation better.”

The ad hoc crime commission has been in place since January. It was created by city council and assigned the task of studying criminal activity in the city.

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