The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 26, 2013

Johnstown imitating success of neighbor

Altoona crime commission studied

JOHNSTOWN — A steadily shrinking Altoona Police Department, with only one full-time narcotics officer, was fighting an outbreak of drug-related crime that had grown by nearly 400 percent in only a few years.

The city knew something needed to be done. But what?

In order to answer the question, the Blair County municipality put together the Altoona Drug and Crime Commission in late 1998.

The group of 11 community leaders, including former mayor and commission chairman Daniel Milliron, studied the local crime problem by compiling statistics, holding public meetings and interviewing residents. Using the information gathered, they created a list of recommendations that, in part, played a role in reducing the city’s crime problem during the past decade.

Now, the city of Johnstown hopes to replicate the success with its own Drug and Crime Commission, which convened for the first time earlier this month. Johnstown’s commission is based on models used by Altoona and, more recently, Mc­Keesport.

“It provided a very complete record of what the problem was, and anybody that had their head in the sand had to be woken up,” said Milliron, a Blair County common pleas judge.

Johnstown’s commission will analyze information, provide a report to City Council and then disband after six months or so, similarly to what happened in Altoona. McKeesport’s commission is different in that it is permanent.

“Our problems aren’t exactly the same as McKeesport’s and Altoona’s, but there is crime here and there’s crime that needs to be addressed,” said Johnstown City Manager Kristen Denne. “Anytime people are willing to work together for a positive cause I think it’s a very good thing.”

In 1999, the year the report was issued, Altoona’s violent crime rate was 269.3 incidents per 100,000 people, according to city-data.com. It dropped to 214.0 by 2011, despite a few upward spikes along the way. “We’re going to hope that we have at least as much success as they had over in Altoona,” said state Rep. Bryan Barbin, chairman of Johns­town’s commission.

Members of Altoona’s group felt the city needed to better enforce public housing rules, including conducting thorough background checks of applicants. They cited concerns about how local drug treatment facilities operated.

One of the centers, Right Turn of Pennsylvania, filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming the commission’s report damaged the business’ reputation by blaming it for part of Altoona’s drug-related crime increase.

The Altoona board also recommended acquiring Community Development Block Grant money in order to pay for more police officers.

“Altoona (addressed its problem) by taking the report and using it to convince business people they needed to do something to avoid the character of the city changing,” Barbin said.

“They made a commitment to step up and provide additional funding or additional resources that were directly related to stopping the increase in drug incidents and violent crime. It did make a difference.”

McKeesport’s problem is more acute than in either Johnstown or Altoona.

Its crime rate was 638.6 per 100,000 in 2011, compared with 386.5 for Johnstown. In 2010, McKeesport’s number of reported violent crimes was 229.81 percent higher than the national average, according to cityrating.com.

In response, the city’s mayor, Michael Cherepko, established a select crime committee, consisting of more than two dozen community leaders, soon after he took office in January 2012. Members are primarily tackling the issue of crime among youngsters.

“Many of our youths don’t have the home life that many of us remember growing up,” said Cherepko. “They’re not talking about what they want to be when they grow up because they don’t think they will grow up. We need to change that mentality.”

Cherepko has encouraged church leaders, police officers, politicians, parents and educators to work together in order to teach children how to avoid being sucked into the crime culture. “The select committee is running on the idea that it takes a village to raise a child,” said Cherepko.

Johnstown Mayor Tom Trigona added, “(McKeesport’s mayor) leans toward the church groups a lot. He was more interested in church leaders. They’re really functional with them. They give him a lot of advice constantly.”

Some positive developments already have been noticed thanks to the committee.

“It’s becoming to be effective,” said McKeesport Police Department Chief Bryan Washowich.

“Communication with the community is growing.”

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • smothers ‘It breaks my heart’: Shooting victim’s death leaves trail of shattered lives

    Victoria Smothers knows what people thought when they heard that a young black male had been shot to death in Moxham last week.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • School violence studied

    On a typical day last year, Pennsylvania schools caught 11 students toting weapons similar to ones used to slash 21 students and a security guard at a Pittsburgh-area high school, according to the state Department of Education. An untold number of others likely brought weapons to school but weren’t caught, safety experts say.

    April 16, 2014

  • Home is Where The Tribune-Democrat is Delivered!

    April 17, 2014

  • egg hunt17 ACRP quietly notes 25th anniversary

    There will be little or no fanfare accompanying Alternative Community Resource Program’s 25th anniversary.
    And that’s how the executive director, Frank Janakovic, wants it.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • windber17 Windber students earn top ‘Overchiever’ rank

    Windber Area school’s PSSA scores have been tops in the region for the past several years.
    This year, they’re among the head of the class statewide, Pittsburgh Business Times annual Schools Guide shows.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wise, Charles Police charge bank robbery suspect

    A Johnstown man was jailed on $250,000 bond after police said he robbed the West End Branch of AmeriServ Financial. Charles Wise, 48, of Barron Avenue, was charged with two counts of robbery.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Inmate awaits sentencing for assault on guard

    A former inmate faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced for assaulting a corrections officer at State Correctional Institution-Somerset, authorities said.

    April 16, 2014

  • windber pool Pool stays afloat despite troubles

    When a valve broke at the Windber Recreation Park pool last month, its municipal authority caretakers feared that meant the end for the pool’s aged, much-patched liner.
    But the old liner has held up – a stroke of luck that will save Windber Municipal Authority from having to seek a line of credit to cover repairs or risk delaying the pool opening, the authority’s recreation director, C.W. Beckley, said.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Creativity blossoming for spring art show

    The 16th annual Art in Bloom spring art show will brighten the Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensburg from noon to 6 p.m. April 26 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 27.

    April 16, 2014

  • Alcatraz Challenge offers escape from routine

    Greater Johnstown Community YMCA is gearing up for its indoor biathlon, the Alcatraz Challenge.

    April 16, 2014

Poll

Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads