City Council candidates sound off on public safety

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today starts a seven-installment, question-and-answer series involving candidates for Williamsport City Council that will run over the next two weeks.)

Six candidates are seeking three City Council seats in the Nov. 5 general election.

Seeking re-election are Councilmen Randall J. Allison of 1308 Elmira St. and N. Clifford “Skip” Smith of 835 First Ave., both Republicans, and Councilwoman Liz Miele of 525 W. Fourth St., a Democrat.

Challengers are Scott Miller of 822 Tucker St., a Republican, and Alison D. Hirsch of 423 Rural Ave. and Kelly Anderson of 533 Seventh Ave., Democrats.

Q: Other than the city rental ordinance, what other kind of crime prevention and rental property improvements come to your mind that the city might consider?

Allison: City Council has approved $100,000 in the recently passed bond issue to go toward more lighting on city streets and will consider making this an annual part of the budget. Illuminating dark sections of neighborhoods is a proven deterrent to criminal activity. Using more energy-efficient types of lighting produces an added benefit of reduced utility costs.

The city’s computerized records management system, due to be operational by March of next year and the finalization of the COPS grant for hiring more police. The effect of these two programs will be far less paperwork and more real-time crime information allowing more officers to be on the scene with vital information in a very short period of time.

Addressing crime also requires global response coordinating initiatives like community policing with the outreach of non-profit/faith-based/social service providers.

Having officers and the people of various neighborhoods get to know and trust each other has proven to be effective in many cities and a perfect complement to this would be supporting and working with groups that are reaching out to neighborhoods with programs for youth, families and residents designed to educate and assist in making choices that lead to a vision and hope for the future.

We will be adding more codes officers to handle the increased workload from the rental ordinance and provide more coverage citywide.

Anderson: Community policing is important because of a need to have a consistent presence in high active crime areas. Have the police walk their beat.

Have one central place to advertise crime prevention events and do this through organization. Begin a community awareness program to educate citizens and landlords on how to run the user as well as the supplier of drugs out of our neighborhoods. Make sure that all city ordinances are enforced.

With public safety, we need fresh and new ideas.

The ideas over the last 10 years have not worked. Whenever a police officer is behind the wheel of a car, he’s not out monitoring the neighborhoods from the ground, and we need a second eye.

I don’t want to see our town go down. I don’t want to see these drugs. We’ve got to do something that works.

Hirsch: We definitely need additional streetlights, with more installed and brighter lights with more energy-efficient bulbs.

I support community policing because of the prior successes. We’ve seen it work. I know the police are under-staffed and overworked, but I think more police on the beat, including police on bicycles would help alleviate crime.

I also believe police need to have more contact with neighborhoods and the people.

I realize that it may be a management issue and it can’t be mandated, but would like to see more of the police hired who choose to live within the city. Perhaps we could provide some incentives to officers moving here by providing low-interest loans for mortgages.

I really do believe most are hard-working but I feel that those from outside the city may still be viewed in that manner.

I believe in hiring more minority officers and women.

Miele: Preventing crime is far less costly and less dangerous than stopping it when it’s started. Two of the most important crime-prevention tools that we have in the city are our codes department and our existing property maintenance code.

An enhanced codes department charged with stringently enforcing our existing laws can and will make all the difference in terms of problem properties in the city . . . and cleaning up problem properties is the first step – not just to discouraging negative behaviors (such as drug dealing, gun play, etc.) but to building pride in our city’s neighborhoods and furthering a sense of place for the people of Williamsport.

The focus as we head into budget season needs to be on giving our codes department the resources it needs to enforce codes, document issues and bring those properties that are falling short up to standard.

I would promote community policing programs that have proven their effectiveness and find training grants so our first-responders are even better prepared than they are today. I also support a sustainable city with green policies, green businesses, green tourism and green neighborhoods.

Miller: Obviously, we need more police. The more police, the better chances that crimes won’t occur, but the city needs to find creative ways to pay for these improvements without impacting the taxpayer.

I support Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s initiative for more and brighter lights.

We need to have community involvement, not just the Citizens Corps Council, but other groups to work with the city on a variety of programs.

The city needs a landlord-tenant commission similar to one working in Tacoma Park, Md.

I will speak with others on council and the mayor to come up with other good ideas.

Smith: The street light improvement project approved by council will definitely go a long way as a preventative measure in deterring crime.

Those intent on doing criminal activity do not like to operate where there are lots of lights. The light program will allow the current lights to be upgraded, where required, and additional high-efficiency lights will be installed in very dark locations.

Along with input from the police department will be input from the public safety committee, neighborhood watch groups and residents of the city on the locations of the lights and improvements to current lights in operation.

More enforcement of the current property maintenance code will also deter criminal behavior.

The surveillance camera project is already paying off with the apprehension of those buying and selling illegal drugs.

The neighborhood watch groups now number 16 and are continuing to grow. This is indicative of the interest by our residents in participating in the effort to reduce criminal activity in our city.