JOHNSTOWN, June 6, 2013 – Small urban areas across Pennsylvania are being plagued with violence, crime and gang warfare.

In an effort to address this critical public safety issue, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, at the request of Sen. John Wozniak, today held a roundtable discussion in Johnstown to talk about this growing problem and how to address the challenges that violent crime and gang violence present to local government, police, citizens and other community members.

“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,” Wozniak said.  “To make 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 drug activity and gang violence in their community.

“We must make the conscientious effort – state lawmakers, local officials, community groups and the public – to work together to stamp out violence and crime in ALL Pennsylvania communities.”

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh/Monroe), who chairs the committee, said, “According to the State Police’s annual crime report, someone becomes the victim of a violent crime every 11 minutes. That is both shocking and sad. Communities such as Johnstown, Erie, McKeesport, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre, Reading, Allentown and Bethlehem have become fertile ground for new criminal enterprises, drug dealers, gang violence and associated turf wars.

Discussing the growth of crime in Johnstown, Detective Sgt. Thomas Owens estimated that four out of five crimes in the city are drug related.

“You’re seeing younger people with guns, more home invasions and more outside influences dealing drugs,” Owens said.

Johnstown City Manager Kristen Dunne added that the growth of drug dealers and their family members in the area are exhausting the city’s law enforcement and human resource services.

State Police Area III Commander George Kuzilla lamented that smaller cities such as Johnstown are being plagued by a growth in a stronger, more pure brand of heroin that is leading to  “greater addiction, overdoses and death.“

 

Kuzilla added that police officers are dealing with more drug dealers moving drugs from larger cities, more firearms and more drug cash. He said the State Police’s already-stretched resources are being further exhausted by financial cutbacks among local police departments.

Rep. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria), who helped establish a crime commission in Johnstown, called for a greater level of coordinating the limited resources that law enforcement and human service agencies have access to.

“We need to bring our resources together, step up joint law enforcement efforts and hold people more accountable for their actions,” Barbin said.

Dr. Marion Spellman, founding president and CEO of the Penial Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, thanked Wozniak for bringing the hearing to Johnstown and said the hearing’s focus on regional crime was a strong symbolic start to “taking our city back.

Joining Wozniak and Boscola were Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), and Senator Richard Kasunic (D-Fayette/Somerset).

The roundtable panel also included:

  • State Rep. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria)
  • Kristen Denne – Johnstown city manager
  • Jonathan Duecker – special agent in charge – Office of the PA Attorney General, Bureau of Narcotics Investigations
  • Frank Janakovic – executive director, Alternative Community Resource Program
  • Det. Sgt. Thomas Owens – Johnstown Police Department, Bureau of Criminal Investigations
  • Dr. Marion Spellman – founding president, & CEO, Peniel Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center
  • Major George Kuzilla, Area III Commander of the Pennsylvania State Police
  • Major Marshall A. Martin, Legislative Affairs Director, Pennsylvania State Police
  • Jessica Aurandt, Assistant District Attorney, Cambria County

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