If the fatal shooting Sunday morning in Wilkes-Barre — the city’s 10th so far this year — doesn’t prompt area residents, the mayor and police to collaborate in new and meaningful ways on crime-prevention efforts, one wonders how many deaths it might take.
Would 15 lives snuffed out by gunfire in this city of about 41,000 residents be sufficient for civic leaders to convene a summit to consider anti-violence strategies?
How about 30 bodies?
Rather than wait for the death toll to rise by one more man, woman or child, let’s admit this year’s rash of homicides — in conjunction with several near misses (including two girls struck by bullets in August), other recent high-profile, violent incidents (such as the machete attack last year near a city high school) and ongoing problems with lesser, drug-related crimes — merits a sustained community response.
Note: That’s community response, not merely a police response.
Already, Mayor Tom Leighton drafted a proposed 2014 budget that calls for adding at least 10 police officers to the city’s current ranks of 75 officers. If council approves the hiring plan, the force still would be below its one-time high of 91 officers. And while getting more cops on the streets could go a long way toward easing public concerns over personal safety and possibly preventing certain tragic incidents, it’s not a cure-all.
Magic solutions? Sorry, there are none. Keeping a lid on crime, especially violent crime, involves input from many people, not the least of which are the people living in the impacted neighborhoods. So why not schedule a brainstorming session among those residents, police, city officials, representatives of social service agencies, crime watch participants and area Guardian Angels members? Provide a seat at the table for organizers of the area’s fledgling Building Bridges community-improvement initiative. Likewise, include Wilkes-Barre Area school administrators and board members, too, provided some of the latter can stop devising ways to hire their relatives for district jobs long enough to focus on issues of wider concern. Be sure to invite law enforcement experts from Luzerne County and beyond.
Together, these concerned individuals can look to cities and programs with measurable success in their anti-violence efforts and devise a blueprint that suits Wilkes-Barre’s situation. (For discussion starters, see the accompanying list of crime-fighting programs and methods.)
Until area residents do something to combat the problems leading to headline-grabbing killings and assaults, the perception of Wilkes-Barre, and by extension the surrounding communities, will continue to decline, making it a less desirable place for businesses and families to locate. Of more importance, of course, isn’t how a city’s image suffers, but rather how the casualties of gun violence — and the loved ones left behind — suffer.
Every victim counts.