Mayor Gabriel J. Campana heard citizen concerns at Monday night's town hall meeting, most of which focused on the city's escalating crime problem. The mayor attributed the problem to transients and urbanites who move to Williamsport to exploit social services.
"The individuals committing these crimes have a Newark or Philadelphia influence. The reputation is, if you come to Williamsport, we'll give you everything. God love those people, but I think we've done enough when it comes to social services," Campana said.
Instead, Campana wants to spend taxpayer money on preventative measures aimed at deterring crime. The Lights On Initiative, a $100,000 capital improvement project, will add new
Police Chief Gregory Foresman answers questions the public asked about the K-9 unit during the town meeting at Cochran Elementary’s playground.
streetlights and increase the wattage of existing low-light bulbs, Campana said.
"Crooks don't like light," Campana said.
City residents also worried about the lack of police presence in their residential neighborhoods.
"Police think if it's quiet everything is alright but that's not so," Audrey Walker said.
Walker complained that, while she had seen plenty of crime activity, she had only seen police drive down her street four times in almost two years.
"At one time we had a police presence where we knew the policemen by name. They'd knock on your door and ask if everything was alright," Walker said.
The city's police force has been steadily shrinking and now is down to only 49 officers. Although a recently-secured federal grant will add two additional officers at no cost to the taxpayer, the mayor said he would "like to see us at 56 officers by 2014."
"On any given day, there are as few as four or as many as nine officers on duty," city Police Chief Gregory Foresman said.
In addition to hiring more police officers, Campana hopes to cooperate with city council to establish a nuisance ordinance that would address resident complaints of absentee landlords knowingly renting to drug dealers. Such an ordinance would require landlords to report information about the occupants of their properties to the city, Campana said.
"My No. 1 objective is to have slumlords sell their properties or conform," Campana said.
The crime problem also is being addressed through the creation of a special police operation meant "to put a thorn in the drug dealer's side," Campana said. The fleet patrols high-crime areas and looks for suspicious activity such as unfamiliar vehicles.
"We make a lot of vehicle stops. Unfortunately there's going to be people who are stopped who aren't doing anything. But we're not going to hold those people up. We'll ask them where they're going, what their business is, a couple of questions, and they're on their way," Foresman said.
The mayor also reiterated his intention to install cameras on residental streets in higher crime areas.
"We tried to do it before and we were shot down. This administration is very intolerant of this behavior but government can't do this alone - we need your help," Campana said.