Taking back the city

In an ironic twist, a group of about 40 people taking part in a “National Night Out Community Walk” in Williamsport Tuesday night were escorted around a scene investigated by city police while they were strolling and advocating neighborhood safety.

“We had to proceed north because they were chasing somebody in the 800 block of Memorial Avenue,” said Jeff Reeder, coordinator of the walk that started in the 900 block of Memorial Avenue. “We were told to switch our routes and escorted around the scene.”

Someone in a community walk group spotted an individual on a front stoop in the 800 block of Memorial Avenue and thought he was a wanted fugitive, city police said.

The individual in question took evasive action, went in and slammed the door and went out the rear door. There was a temporary perimeter established around the neighborhood, as police looked for the individual, according to police sources.

The man returned to the house, spoke with police, and it turned out to be a mistaken identity, police said.

Police cruisers rushed to the scene, with sirens wailing and it caused a stir among those walking, according to Reeder, who said walkers carried signs stating “Stop the Killing” and “Unite Our Neighborhoods.”

“They were tired of what’s happening and felt compelled to get organized and fight back,” Reeder said.

Lycoming County has had 10 shootings this year, eight in the city and two others in outlying areas, according to police statistics.

Reeder said group members observed property maintenance code violations during the walk.

“A lot of people on porches noticed us walking by,” he said.

Michele Frey strolled along Arch Street with her 3-year-old German shepherd, Gordon.

“I take him out whenever I walk,” she said while taking part in the walk in the Newberry section.

Jane Dirk said she planned to walk in the neighborhoods near her house on Tucker Street.

Margaret Tupper, of Arch Street, said getting to know her neighbors was more needed than walking.

“I think you should get to know your neighbors – not just watch them,” said Tupper.

She said her daughter in Fort Collins, Colo., told her that her community has block parties as part of its annual National Night Out observances.

“That’s what I think we should have,” Tupper said.

In Newberry, the group of about 35 people started their walk in the parking lot of St. John’s-Newberry United Methodist Church, which was the site of a shooting July 29.

That shooting victim, Christopher Downs, 28, was listed in fair condition Tuesday night, said a nursing supervisor at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.

“It shows even in a benign place tragedies happen,” said Alannah Gabriel, a coordinator with Newberry Community Partnership, who participated in the walk, handing out flags provided by Flags Across America and local resident, Tony DiSalvo.

The walks were meant to give criminals pause and let the city’s good citizens know that they are watching each other’s backs.

City codes enforcement officers, police and Mayor Gabriel J. Campana also joined the walks.

“We’re looking for exterior property maintenance code violations,” said Tom Evansky, a codes officer who said the walk, for him, included an inspection of the outside of properties.

Such potential violations as sidewalks in disrepair, dilapidated structures and issues that impact life, health and safety were on his radar.

Phil Preziosi, mayor of the city from 1990 through 1996, said the walks are about making people aware, showing unifications and letting people know they can report suspicious activities to 911, whether they be police or fire related.

Some 11 arson-related fires that remain unsolved have taken place in Newberry, one this year.

“Each neighborhood in the city has its own flavors for things, but there’s a commonality, too,” said City Councilman Don Noviello. The walks, for him, were a good way to exchange thoughts and ideas.

“We’re putting community back in our community one step at a time,” said state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport.

“I plan to make the city safer, but I need your help,” Campana said.