First Posted: 8/8/2013
WILKES-BARRE — Alarmed by an increase in violent crime, Mayor Tom Leighton took aim at what he said was the source and proposed tough standards for landlords and tenants to aid in the fight against the “poison” of drugs in the city’s neighborhoods.
With key officials in his administration assembled in City Council chambers Thursday afternoon, Leighton detailed his plan to penalize problem properties, their owners and occupants by shutting down the places for six months.
“In the aftermath of the homicide at 174 S. Grant St., I convened a meeting with my legal advisers, police department officials and senior administrative staff to review and conceive any new city ordinances that would aid our continued fight against crime, drugs and poison in our city neighborhoods,” he said.
Twelve days after that fatal shooting on July 7 there was another in the city, bringing the total number of homicides to seven to date.
The amendment adds drugs and weapons charges to the list of violations and sets a “one-strike” limit for a shutdown by the city’s code enforcement department. It targets landlords and tenants who know of criminal activity and do not alert the authorities.
“We are not looking to punish property owners who are trying to keep up their property, recruit good tenants and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” the mayor said. “But we’re not going to permit people to turn a blind eye to criminal activity for the sake of collecting a guaranteed rent check.”
Council to consider
The proposed legislation goes to council for approval on a first reading at Tuesday night’s council meeting. It requires a second reading and approval by council in order to be enacted.
The mayor said it has been thoroughly researched to make sure it is legal. “Our new one-strike doctrine will provide a serious incentive for property owners to not value profit above their responsibility,” he said.
Last month the mayor tripled the size of the tactical unit assigned to high crime areas to six officers. Working in conjunction with the state police, the increase has paid off with 33 arrests, including 16 on felony drug charges, nine for prostitution and the seizure of three illegal firearms.
“We will continue to remove the drugs and the poison from our streets and arrest violent criminals,” Leighton said.
He singled out drugs as a root cause for the violence and justified the added effort paid to fighting crime. It was an about face from his comment in June that crime was down in the city.
“We have not turned a blind eye to the realities on our streets,” Leighton said. “We have intensified our deployment of police resources to combat the escalating violence that we believe is inspired by the illegal narcotics trade in the city limits.”
The mayor received support from state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre.
“I think that there is no other choice,” Pashinski said.
He planned to meet with others in Harrisburg who make up the third-class city caucus to work on legislation to help his hometown and other cities facing similar problems.
The cutbacks and austerity measures taken by the state and federal governments play role, he added.
“When we have government that is not working at the level that it should, providing other sources, other jobs, other income for these people, they’re are forced into these illegal activities,” Pashinski said.
The state lawmaker said it will take a concerted effort and urged people to get involved to address the problems.
Leighton cautioned it will take time for change, but vowed his commitment.
“My resolve is a firm cleanup of this city, and I guarantee you better days are ahead,” he said.