In crime victims’ rights week, meeting crime issues with strength, resilience, justice

First, some good news. Criminal victimization on the national level has actually been decreasing over the last 20 years.

But a dose of reality is in order as well. Locally, we continue to see the effects of a rampant heroin and drug problem that shows few signs of abetting.

As we embark on National Crimes Victims’ Rights Week, April 2-8, it’s my goal as Lycoming County District Attorney to meet our local issues with “Strength, Resilience and Justice” – the theme for this year’s observance.

Since the mid-1990s, the violent crime rate per 1,000 people around the U.S. has dropped from 6.5 to 3.7.

Likewise, property crime has fallen from 45.9 per 1,000 people to 24.9. Positive news, obviously.

But Gallup polls also show that most Americans feel there is more crime around them than there was the year prior.

Perhaps that has a lot to do with crimes reaching farther outside city walls and afflicting families that never would have thought they would become embroiled in a confusing and overburdened legal system.

We have seen it too many times to count: a son or daughter becomes hooked on heroin and the cycle begins.

First, it’s thefts of small items from the family. Then there are burglaries in the neighborhood, or larger thefts from an employer.

Or, it may start as a few missing checks from a family member’s checkbook.

Or, flat-out identity theft, which continues to be one of the crime types statistically increasing in regularity over the last 20 years.

How do we answer these issues? First, with Strength. We advocate for more police officers on the streets.

It has been well-publicized recently, that our state police are losing more troopers due to more retirements than they can replace.

But the state is taking steps to streamline the hiring process, so more bodies can make our rural areas safer.

The City of Williamsport has also seen its share of retirements of seasoned officers in recent years, but continues to train and hire new officers to keep its staffing numbers relevant.

Once the cases come to Court, my office will continue to ask that judges mete out the appropriate punishment. Many times, that means stiff prison sentences.

We know we can’t protect everyone from certain offenders forever.

But any timeframe a dangerous criminal is off the streets, they can’t be victimizing innocent neighbors or family members.

Longer prison terms show the strength in the justice system.

The second way we react to our local crime issues is with Resilience.

As a member of the county’s Prison Board, I see every month how we work to address overcrowding issues.

It’s an ongoing battle that doesn’t have easy long-term answers.

Sending inmates to other institutions strains our budget — as would building a larger prison facility.

But short of opening the doors and letting violent offenders and drug dealers onto our streets, we work diligently to come up with answers both short-term and long.

We’re also attacking the issue from the drug side. Various county-affiliated groups like Project Bald Eagle are collaborating with community leaders to find answers to our addiction issues.

Again, it’s an ongoing battle with no easy answers.

And the battle won’t end soon.

Staying focused and bringing more people in with suggestions and ideas will require resilience for years to come.

Lastly, we seek Justice.

We recognize that locking someone up and throwing away the key is not a one-size fits-all answer.

Some offenders will be successful with drug treatment. We have processes in place to identify those people and a network of treatment options. If that treatment fails, however, it is incumbent upon your district attorney to make sure harsher measures are taken to ensure accountability.

Perhaps most importantly, seeking justice for victims is paramount to our mission. Victims suffer when a crime first occurs.

They suffer again when they have to miss work to attend court hearings or recover from injuries.

They suffer when they hear a noise late at night or see an offender on Facebook bragging how he is going to “beat the rap.”

And they suffer some more when they must wait for restitution to be paid.

Bringing justice to those victims in whatever form they seek keeps driving us to come to work the next day and do it all again.

And we will keep showing up and working hard to show Strength, Resilience and Justice in the year to come.

Linhardt is Lycoming County District Attorney.