Johnstown Crime Violence Commission Issues Final Report

07.05.13 | Abby Lutcher

The 25-page report addressed topics that need improvement including education, housing, rehabilitative programs and more.During Friday's meeting, the topic of law enforcement took center stage. The commission also addressed the drug problem, which city leaders recognize as the root of most of Johnstown's problems. One of the commission's recommendations was to hire more police officers. Since 2008, the city's police force has decreased from 52 full-time officers to 31. The commission acknowledged that funding has been an issue when it comes to hiring officers and the city has been working on a deficit for several years. Rep. Bryan Barbin, who spearheaded the commission, said the commission doesn't have a number of how many officers should be hired and said that's up to city council. But Barbin said it's something it's something that needs to be done and it can't wait any longer. "If you want to handle the problem, you have to take care of the main issue. You have to have enough police officers to secure the public peace," he said. Since the commission was formed in December, there have been three drug-related murders in Johnstown, six shootings and two armed robberies, not to mention more than a dozen drug busts. Poverty is also an issue. Over the past 10years, the poverty rate has increased 25 percent to just under 33 percent. Couple that with an overworked, understaffed police force and you've got problems, according to the findings. While the commission has spent a lot of time working on the findings, many say they're recommendations that city leaders, business owners and even residents have known for a while. Yes, there's a drug problem, and yes, there's an increasing need for more police, but the question all along has been how to make that happen with limited funding. The final report consists of 25 pages of research, graphs, recommendations and more than six months of work with a goal of fighting drugs and crimes on the streets of Johnstown. "It's my view that the common denominator in all of these problems we are trying to deal with are all connected to the fact we have a different heroin problem today," said Barbin. "If we don't deal with it and support local law enforcement, we're going to have a bigger problem tomorrow." Formed of city and county leaders, the commission held meetings every month and attracted an array of residents who were worried about the future of their neighborhoods and wanted to help. And officials said they've already seen a difference. "We are seeing community groups resurrected and crime watch groups stepping up," said Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan. "The walks through the communities are sending a message that we're all tired of it, and we all want to live safe." But there's a lot more to be done. The findings released Wednesday touch upon areas the commission said could be improved, including housing, education and rehabilitative programs. "Everybody's doing their part, but the problem is really big," said Barbin. "What you have to do is decide this is what you did before, we need to do more. You sit down and talk about how you can do more." But the most discussed area of the report focuses on law enforcement, the ever-increasing problem with drugs and the need for more officers in the city. "This was the relatively easy part. We were able to identify a lot of the problems, we were able to look at steps that we need to take and things like that," said Foust. "Now, the challenge is finding the resources available to institute these programs."