WILKES-BARRE — While Mayor Tom Leighton told residents at a city council meeting Thursday night crime was down in the city, police found a car on Carey Avenue reportedly connected to a strong-armed robbery.
His comment drew a response of “Oh please,” and pleas from residents for help in removing drug dealers from their neighborhoods.
After quickly voting to put $185,600 in Liquid Fuels Tax funds toward construction of a new $3.7 million bridge on Sidney Street and remount an ambulance on new chassis for $114,688, city council spent the next 90 minutes hearing from the public on issues of crime, pit bulls and prayer.
Councilman George Brown asked for cooperation from the administration to address a resident’s concerns about prostitution and people openly dealing drugs on the street near his house.
Leighton responded, saying there is an emphasis on drug enforcement. Within the last 45 days, he said, “we’ve taken 34 high-level, violent, drug dealers off the streets” in addition to making numerous arrests of lower-level dealers. The arrests were in cooperation with federal and state law enforcement agencies.
“Where there’s drugs, there’s crime,” he said. It appears crime has increased, he added, because police are making more arrests.
City resident Shawn Walker acknowledged contacting Councilman Brown about the drug dealing problem he’s witnessed near his South Wilkes-Barre house. Walker had “resigned myself to the fact that it was happening,” he said. But that changed when a drug dealer jumped in the passenger seat of his car one night and two deals happened within 30 minutes apart while his family was having a birthday party in his backyard, he said.
“I’m tired,” he said of being “held hostage” by a group of criminals “that we far outnumber.”
More has to be done to address the core issues of why people are dealing drugs, he said.
More police would help, too, said James Gallagher of Poplar Street. He was told there were only four officers on duty early Sunday morning when a lawnmower was stolen from Nicholson Street, he said. He suggested the city take some of the $650,000 budgeted for street cleaning and put it toward hiring more police.
Gallagher prefaced his remarks by telling council, “God bless you guys” in response to Justin Vacula’s objection to beginning each council meeting with a prayer.
Vacula, an Exeter resident, self-described atheist and member of the NEPA Freethought Society, had paid for a permit to hang a banner that read “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” on Public Square.
“I urge council to cease prayer at future meetings,” Vacula said.
Council Chairman Bill Barrett said council will look into Vacula’s concern and research the issue of the opening prayer.
Residents also complained of pit bulls running loose. Michael Hall, of Bowman Street, said there are 11 of the dogs in his neighborhood, and police shot and killed one earlier this month. He invited council members to visit his neighborhood, saying “Anytime you wanna go for a walk, just give me a buzz.”