Vacant buildings, drug usage, a lack of youth programs and an underrepresented police presence were just a few problems addressed at city hall Tuesday night.
The gathering was a way for Washington residents to voice their concerns about crime, but it also was a brainstorming session and a meet-and-greet for city police to become acquainted with the citizens they serve.
“Your input is vital,” Washington Mayor Brenda Davis said to the packed room of community organizers, church leaders, college administrators, residents and crime victims.
“Whether you decide to attend a neighborhood watch monthly meeting or just get involved simply by being a porch watcher, thus being the eyes and ears of our streets, you are helping to strengthen our community.”
Members of the local NAACP chapter, as well as the Highland Ridge Community Development Corp. and West End neighborhood watch programs, also discussed the importance of community involvement to help combat crime. “Community” T-shirts were on display at the meeting, and enough were sold recently to raise $700 for the Highland Ridge and West End groups.
Davis said the city is working to reinstitute police foot patrols, establish more neighborhood watch programs and hold regular meet-and-greets with police and residents.
She said they also are talking to business owners about keeping their store lights on at night, and the city hopes to eventually install cameras in the central business district.
Betsy Dane, administrator of the Crime Victim and Witness Assistance Program, said they provide free services to about 1,500 new victims of crime in Washington County each year.
“If you just conservatively say that those folks have 15 acquaintances, what we’re talking about is nearly 112,000 people in a five-year period that have been directly or indirectly impacted by crime,” Dane said. “That’s nearly half the population of the county of Washington.”
Family members of Vincent “Mystro” Kelley, who was shot to death last year after he attempted to stop an armed robber at Citizens Bank in Strabane Square, were present at the meeting and expressed their concerns.
Kelley’s sister, Linda Lucas, said her son, a senior at Washington High School, was “jumped” while walking outside not long after her brother’s death.
She said the youth need more programs to keep them off the streets.
“All they think about is running the streets, doing drugs, smoking weed – that’s a huge thing,” Lucas said.
“There’s just really nothing that strikes their interest except for that, and I’m pretty worried about that.”
Someone suggested compiling a list of available activities for young adults, and Davis said the city could add it to its website.
Other residents suggested that police acquire a K-9 dog unit, and some stressed the importance of providing programs that would reduce unemployment and drug addiction.
One Washington resident sitting in the back of the room said she was impressed by the huge turnout and urged everyone to do their part to stop crime.
“If everybody goes out thinking positively, believing in God, praying, it’s going to turn around,” she said. “It’s going to have to. It’s going to take work, but you can’t go out here negatively … I think you can do great things.”