Big city crime-related problems are getting worse in the area and, in addition to law enforcement being asked to step up its efforts, a three-prong plan of attack was announced Friday by Lycoming County District Attorney Eric. R. Linhardt.
36 surveillance cameras will be employed at strategic locations in the city;
City parks will be patrolled more frequently;
Multiple agencies will conduct saturation patrol tactics to combat a rise in heroin use and crime.
"The rise in crime and violence the city is experiencing is directly related to the increase of heroin use, not only in the city, but throughout Lycoming County," Linhardt said.
Heroin arriving from Philadelphia and other large cities, particularly Newark, N.J., has given rise to violence on city streets, and Linhardt cited examples of a drug-related overdose death at the Pajama Factory, an artist studio in the city's western end and shootings in Montoursville.
"What may have been previously viewed as Williamsport's crime problem has become all of our problem," the district attorney said during a news conference at Executive Plaza on Pine Street. "We have brought together police agencies in a determined effort to bring to bear collective resources in communities such as South Williamsport, Montoursville, Old Lycoming Township, Jersey Shore and Muncy, Montgomery and Hughesville.
Some $17,000 from drug forfeitures will be used to buy the surveillance cameras and pay for overtime of city police patroling parks. The cameras have infrared night capability for use at the Timberland Housing Project on Edwin and Lycoming streets and adjacent elderly high rise. The money also will be used for police overtime in Roy A. Flanigan Park, Memorial Park, Shaw Place Park, Newberry Park, Brandon Park and Young's Woods Park.
Police, he said, are intensifying their efforts and will employ initiatives to drive dealers out of the city and county such as saturation patrols.
"I think it's fair to say, since 2008, we have forfeited in excess of $300,000," Linhardt said. The forfeited money will be used to pay for overtime expenses for city police officers who are assigned to work park details, he said. Previously, he said, the park details were limited to Flanigan Park, site of two deadly shootings.
More officers will join city police and state police efforts, including those with the Pennsylvania College of Technology on saturation patrols within the city, he said.
City police, meanwhile, are planning to assign full-time officers to a special operations group dressed in all-black. Additionally, Old Lycoming Township, Montoursville, South Williamsport and the Tiadaghton Valley Regional police, with assistance of the office of attorney general, will be operating interdiction efforts within the city. The county sheriff's department along with U.S. Marshals Service continue efforts as part of the fugitive task force.
"The increase in crime numbers and increase in violence and impact it is having on our outlying communities, the recent shooting in Montoursville is one example," he said. "The drug problems we're dealing with in smaller communities are directly related to significant increase in heroin use."
Detectives afterward noted heroin often is being cut with Fentenyl, which is used for cancer patients' pain relief, but can be a lethal combination that can cause respiratory arrest.
Drug deals are occurring with users from as far away as Bradford and Tioga counties, State College is the west and an hour below South Williamsport, because of the cheap and abundant supply, according to Old Lycoming Township Police Chief William O. Solomon and South Williamsport Police Chief Robert Hetner.
Linhardt said incarceration and restoring peace by reducing the number of overdoses and drug-related crime before it spreads further are the goals.
"Our objective is a show of force within the city to root out those who do harm to our neighborhoods with their criminal activity.
"Our mission and my directive to our county's law enforcement agencies is clear - to swiftly identify and incarcerated as many offenders as possible, to restore peace and quiet to our communities," Linhardt said.