Panel features Attorney General and State Police Commissioner

WILKES-BARRE, April 2, 2013 – Violence, crime and gang warfare continue to plague smaller urban areas across Pennsylvania.

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a roundtable discussion at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre to talk about the growing problem of violent crime in Pennsylvania, with a special focus on how the problem impacts the small urban centers of Northeast Pennsylvania.

Citing the ease at which criminals from large cities like New York City and Camden, NJ can set up their operations here in Pennsylvania’s small urban communities, the panel focused on how to address the challenges that violent crime and gang violence present to local government, police, citizens and other community members.

“The vast participation at today’s forum shows that the crime problems facing NEPA are not dissimilar to the problems facing many other cities across the commonwealth,” Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon/Monroe) said. “Working together with a strong, unified partnership with all stakeholders – from local crime watch groups to state officials – we can, and will be successful in the fight against crime and violence in our communities.”

Yudichak has spearheaded legislative efforts to curb gang violence in northeastern Pennsylvania and throughout Pennsylvania. He has sponsored a host of bills that would toughen criminal penalties and curb the spread of gang violence.

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh/Monroe), who chairs the committee, said, “The frightening truth is that big city crime and gang violence are rapidly making their way into smaller communities throughout our state. Making matters worse, many of these smaller urban centers, which are barely managing to fund basic services for their citizens, do not have the kinds of tools and resources to fully monitor, investigate and eradicate gang violence in their community.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she will work with law enforcement agencies across the state to help curb gang violence. According to the State Police’s crime report, someone becomes the victim of a violent crime every 11 minutes.

“I commend the Senate for planning a roundtable discussion that will promote conversations about violent crime in our commonwealth’s small urban communities,” Kane said. “The increasing presence of gangs in Pennsylvania is associated with greater instances of violent crimes involving illegal drugs and guns. Such activity poses a serious threat to the safety and well-being of this commonwealth. I look forward to discussing these urgent issues with the members of the committee as well as those individuals who work in law enforcement and other related areas.”

Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner, Colonel Frank Noonan added that one of the main difficulties law enforcement faces in addressing violence and violent crime is the diminished number of police in these small urban communities.

“We are working together to address these issues of violence and violent crime. Cooperation is at an all time high, unfortunately, manpower is at an all time low,” Col. Noonan said. “The State Police is not set up to patrol these cities. If we continue down this road, the number of State troopers will be severely weakened.”

Col. Noonan was one of several law enforcement officials on the panel that spoke about lack of resources, funding and manpower affecting their abilities to combat violence and violent crime in these small urban communities.

Rev. Shawn Walker, founder of Building Bridge Campaign and pastor of First Baptist Church of Wilkes-Barre added that providing kids with the proper social services and afterschool activities could dramatically decrease the number of kids that get involved in criminal activities and gangs.

“We must invest our dollars where it matters. We must invest in our most prized possession in the present and for our future – our children,” Rev. Walker said. “These children have a sense of hopelessness that is alarming because it leads them to violent behavior. We must make an investment in our children starting at elementary age.

Kane added that when kids are left with no activities after school, they are 70 percent more likely to get involved in crime.

All panelists agreed that there is a strong need for program funding and that there must be a collaborative effort – legislators, law enforcement, social services, community organizers, educators and parents – to make these small urban cities a better place to live.

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) added that Senate Democrats remain committed to finding effective solutions to the crime plaguing Pennsylvania’s communities.

“There are some very difficult challenges that this rising tide of gang violence is causing, as evidenced by this discussion, Sen. Costa said. “All of the great ideas and input we gathered today will help drive the discussion as the Senate continues to deliberate ways to curb violent crime and stop this disturbing increase in gang activity.”

The roundtable panel also included:

  • State Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna)
  • State Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks)
  • State Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny)
  • State Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria)
  • Stefanie Salavantis – Luzerne County District Attorney
  • Gary Dobias – Carbon County District Attorney
  • Gerard Dessoye – Chief of Police, City of Wilkes- Barre
  • Frank DeAndrea – Chief of Police, City of Hazleton
  • William Shultz – Chief of Police, City of Nanticoke
  • Det. Charles Balough – Luzerne County Crimewatch Coalition
  • Teri Ooms – Coordinator, Operation Gang-Up/Executive Director, Institute for Public Policy
  • Robert Curry – President, Hazleton Integration Project
  • Paul Lindenmuth – Assoc. Technical Professor, Dept. of Criminal Justice, King’s College