Team Williamsport now into potlucks

Team Williamsport, a citizens’ group organized to take neighborhoods back from criminals and drug dealers, came on like gangbusters, gaining members and starting a Facebook page. But, it suddenly has a less visible presence.

Coordinator Rick Bates said Wednesday the group’s members are more focused on meeting in each other’s houses for potluck dinners and getting to know each other rather than quickly growing the “team” membership.

Still, it remains committed to reducing crime and improving quality of life, Bates said.

Last month, he said, the group met and was hoping to put leadership to it.

“We decided what was most important was getting to know each other as neighbors. It’s been very heartbreaking and emotional for a lot of people,” Bates said.

“Team Williamsport has been divided in some issues,” he said. “We have members who are addicts, neighbors trying to help each other and others who are trying to understand the problems the city faces by spreading the word and finding solutions.”

The group took heat in late April after 35 members walked with police and codes officials during a condemnation of apartments on Hepburn and West Fourth streets, where drug activities were alleged by some tenants.

The potential exposure of unarmed civilians in the group, including several children, was criticized by members of City Council. Council never once was critical of the group’s efforts or intentions to curb crime and work with police, codes and public safety personnel to improve neighborhoods.

Councilman Randall J. Allison suggested the members of the team take a less unilateral approach and come under the umbrella of other organizations and efforts fighting the same battle against heroin and crime.

Assistant Police Chief Timothy Miller, who provided initial guidance for the team, has stepped out of the picture.

“They’re invited to the heroin summit Friday,” Campana said earlier this week.

Campana is holding the summit, inviting federal and state lawmakers and others to attend the meeting to hear local problems related to overdoses, sale and crime caused by heroin and prescription drug abuse.