WILKES-BARRE has, statistically, become the gun-death-of-the-month club. Six firearm killings since January, to be precise.
As a page 1A story in Friday’s Times Leader pointed out, the city is also close to having a robbery involving a gun every week — 20 such offenses so far this year. That’s an 81 percent increase from the same stretch last year.
The depressing news continues. Serious crimes — homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft and stolen vehicles — are up from 675 to 816, a 21 percent increase. Lesser crimes, including simplle assauts, drugs, vandalism and prostitution, are up from 947 to 1,125, a 19 percent jump.
These are disturbing figures in any city, at any time. In Wilkes-Barre, they are made more troubling by the trend of the surrounding area. Luzerne County has seen a 26 percent drop in serious crimes, and that decline comes despite the fact that Wilkes-Barre’s numbers are included in the calculation,
Which obviously suggests offenses have dropped even more elsewhere, and that the county total is pushed up by the spike in the Diamond City.
So what is the city’s response?
At a time when Mayor Tom Leighton and/or Police Chief Gerard Dessoye should come forward with reassurances, rebuttals or a plan to reverse the trend, they say nothing.
In fact it was only about a month ago that Leighton was insisting crime was down.
This is almost certainly a problem without a simple solution. No one should expect Leighton or Dessoye to come up with some quick fix. Money is too tight to put more cops on the street, or to increase drug and gang busting operations.
It doesn’t help that any mention of a gun culture or gun control ignites a firestorm that destroys pragmatic debate. This reality was exemplified by the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass a bipartisan universal background check bill proposed by two conservatives with high ratings from the NRA — despite overwhelming public support for the idea.
This is a tough issue that requires an honest public response. It probably also requires a broader response at the state and county level. So, no, city officials need not stand before a microphone and speak Pablum nor pie in the sky.
But they do need to speak.