So much blood was spattered on the streets of downtown Williamsport over the weekend that some pedestrians wondered if another murder had taken place.
“People were calling in asking if someone had been stabbed, jumped or beaten. None of those things happened,” Chief of Police Gregory Foresman said Monday.
According to police, an out-of-state individual punched out the former teller booth window of the parking deck near The Cell Block in the early hours of Saturday morning. He traveled east from there, dripping large amounts of blood on Fourth and Pine streets before arriving at the Trade and Transit Centre where he was taken to the Williamsport Regional Medical Center by paramedics.
As of Monday, the blood still had not been cleaned up.
“I noticed it Saturday morning after being told about it by other business owners,” Casey Gleghorn, owner of Converge Gallery, said.
Gleghorn and others made calls to city officials but, days later, blood still stained the sidewalks.
“We don’t just disregard their frustrations. We’re as frustrated as they are. But the police department aren’t hazmat people and it’s not our
business to clean body fluids,” Foresman said.
Police “currently have nothing in place to deal with the issue at hand,” according to Foresman, because the department hasn’t updated its policies to conform to changes in regulations.
“We used to just wash blood down the drain system but you can’t anymore because it’s considered hazardous material,” Foresman said, apparently unaware at the time that blood on the sidewalk of at one downtown business was removed Monday with a pressure washer.
Due to contract issues, city employees legally aren’t allowed to clean up blood. Neither the streets and parks nor the fire departments are hazmat certified, according to Foresman. The situation is complicated by the fact that the city ordinance clearly states that property owners are responsible for sidewalk maintenance.
“The police’s solution was to give me a four-digit number and say that any business owner that wants to clean it up can send them the bill,” Gleghorn said.
Despite the fact that sidewalks in front of downtown businesses aren’t considered city property, the mounting number of complaints encouraged the mayor to make an “executive decision” to clean up the blood anyway.
“Any time that there’s blood on the sidewalk is a public safety concern. The mayor is going to intervene this time around because we have a Little League World Series coming up and we are very pro-downtown,” Mayor Gabriel Campana said Monday.
Campana will meet with City Council to develop a revised policy. In the meanwhile, the police department hired Duraclean to clean up the blood.
“They can’t remove it in its liquid state so they spray some kind of disinfectant on it,” Police Capt. Timothy Miller said.
A crew began working late Monday afternoon and was to have been finished by evening.
“I have no idea of the cost. It’ll be covered within the city budget but we’re evaluating which line item because this is unprecedented,” Campana said.
Although the mayor said this was the first time in his 17-year career that the question of cleaning bloodstains has come to the fore, Foresman said “there have been issues like this in the past.”
“A pedestrian was struck on the 700 block of West Fourth Street. The blood dried up and was unable to be removed by us or any crew,” Foresman said.
Gleghorn expressed concern that bloodstains will frighten and deter visitors.
“How can you tell people that downtown isn’t a dangerous place when there’s blood all over the street?” Gleghorn said.
Citing the city’s reputation for being unsafe, some downtown business owners would rather events like this not be publicized.
“It’s making a mountain out of a molehill,” said Otto Bookstore owner Betsy Rider. “Newspaper readers like violence. It’s too bad when it hurts the fine image of downtown Williamsport.”
Indeed, the public perception that Williamsport is unusually dangerous is not supported by crime statistics, some say.
“Our police respond immediately to issues that happen downtown. Our city has an excellent image and our downtown is very safe,” said Bernie Katz, owner of Le Chocolat, across from which a large amount of blood was smeared.
Although the response time was slower than some business owners would have liked, Foresman said, “the department is not incompetent.”
“I don’t blame certain people for being frustrated,” Foresman said. “It’s unfortunate this incident took place but we can’t control people’s immature actions. We always try to come up with solutions.”