Mayor gets earful
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana met an agitated crowd fearful of drug-related crimes, shootings, violence and rapid decay of buildings on Scott Street and surrounding neighborhoods Wednesday afternoon.
About 75 people in a group of about 100 fully supported his policies to reduce crime, but others were more worried about recent shootings and spikes in heroin and other drug deals in the city.
At a 5:30 p.m. news conference, held a block from where a 21-year-old man was shot to death inside a house in the 1500 block of Scott Street on July 20, Campana decried the shooting, saying it is not justified on that street or any other in the city.
Campana said he will reintroduce a “most wanted” list on a quarterly basis in local publications such as the Sun-Gazette and spoke with advertisers to place
wanted individuals and fugitives on billboards.
The mayor said he spoke with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who said that his city’s fugitives will be shared with local authorities who will put them on a public website.
When Campana sought election, his plans to improve public safety and enhance economic development were his top priorities. He once used billboards that told criminals “On Day One You’re Done,” leading up to his first election as mayor.
Despite three killings by guns this year and numerous shootings, Campana said the city will continue to have zero tolerance of crime.
He announced plans to increase the size of the police department and enact laws that hold landlords and tenants accountable for their actions.
Campana said he would bring a landlord-tenant registration ordinance to a vote before City Council next month. The ordinance will require owners of residential properties, landlords and tenants to register with city codes department to show proof of where they live.
At least one woman got into a back-and-forth with Campana, expressing opposition for the ordinance being too complex and not targeting the problematic landlords and their tenants.
Campana described how the house in which the latest slaying occurred was a property in which two separate shootings resulted in deaths. But, he hinted that he would have difficulty passing the ordinance.
“I don’t have the votes,” he said.
Campana said he is seeking additional funding from the federal government for hiring police officers. Ideally, he said, the complement should be raised to 56 officers. The last time that happened was in 1999, he added.
Campana, however, was unable to say, whether hiring more police can be done without raising taxes.
“I can’t say for sure,” Campana said prior to the conference.
He suggested about $500,000 in savings could be used toward the hiring. The savings is from changes in employee health care and switching over to a better system of medical insurance management, he said.
City Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman said the police hiring process will take several months because he needs to get another list of qualified candidates.
Campana added the need is urgent to get federal funding for additional surveillance cameras and to place them on streets deemed appropriate by police. The city has 10 operational cameras dispersed among three parks – Memorial, Newberry and Flanigan.
Heroin sales and use have been sweeping across the city and county landscape, and Lycoming County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt has attributed that to a marked rise in violence and crime. Linhardt said he will authorize using $17,000 in drug forfeiture money to buy 36 infrared cameras to be positioned around Timberland Estates on West Edwin Street and to assist in police overtime costs associated with park patrols.
Campana also is sour on a state law on the books since 2009 that permits individuals to buy hypodermic needles without a prescription.
“We have people shooting heroin in our pharmacy parking lots,” he said.
Campana said he asks residents to share their opposition to a county plan to consider buildings in the city for use of a day treatment center for non-violent offenders of the law. The mayor has been consulting with the commissioners, along with the police administration, on the subject.
“I believe they need to find money to build a larger prison outside city limits,” Campana said.
He placed blame on increases in crime on indifferent parents who don’t tell their children it’s not right to sell or purchase drugs and it is wrong to carry a gun and shoot someone.
“We have fathers who are not being daddys,” he said.
“And not working,” yelled someone in the crowd.