Opinion/Editorial by the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney For The Western District of Pennsylvania
Part of my mission as the U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania is to share Department of Justice resources and strategies to help communities solve problems and reduce crime. I am pleased to report impressive accomplishments in the Erie area.
Last year, we awarded Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) funds to the Erie County District Attorney to implement proactive enforcement strategies furthering partnerships among federal authorities, the DA’s County Detectives and the Erie Police. With a relatively small expenditure of PSN funds last year, your local and federal partners targeted chronic violent offenders who commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes in the area. Together, law enforcement executed 25 operations, seized cocaine, marijuana, heroin, cash and guns, and made 18 felony arrests. These proactive operations were just a supplement to the hard work of the Erie Police who respond daily to violent crime and enforce the law against dangerous offenders. The U.S. Marshal’s multi-agency fugitive task force in Erie also targeted offenders who had outstanding arrest warrants for crimes previously committed. A team of Deputy U.S. Marshals, PSP Troopers, state Probation and Parole Agents, County Detectives, and U.S. Border Patrol agents, in partnership with Erie County Sheriff Deputies and Erie Police officers executed 108 felony fugitive arrest warrants, removing these offenders from the streets and further ensuring the safety of your community.
Your PSN efforts saw success in areas beyond traditional law enforcement operations as well. The PSN measures in Erie included truancy patrols to get youth back in school. Rather than just pick-up truant students, however, your Erie strategy connected truant students with support services and counseling from our Positive Youth Development partners.
Pairing truancy patrols with support services has been an effective means to discover the root causes for truancy on an individual basis, and to correct the problem by helping kids.
These proactive enforcement measures are just one aspect of the Erie Unified Youth Violence Reduction Initiative that incorporates all three prongs of our DOJ priorities: Enforcement, Prevention and Reentry. The implementation of the Erie County Policy and Planning Council’s Community Action Plan last year is an exciting development that deserves significant attention and praise in the Erie area.
To be effective, the action plan needs action. Families and citizens in neighborhoods throughout Erie County should become actively involved. Go to unifiederie.org to find out more about the Erie Unified Youth Violence Reduction Initiative, “like” them on Facebook and find out where you can plug in.
Based upon the success of the past year and the City’s commitment to proactive innovative law enforcement strategies, we are pleased to announce that the Department of Justice has awarded an additional $300,000.00 in PSN funds to help improve the lives of the residents of Erie’s lower east side. I am also pleased to more formally announce that the City of Erie is one of only four cities in the nation to receive the 2013 Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation enhancement award in the amount of $598,447.00 from the Department of Justice for Erie’s “Little Italy” neighborhood.
I commend the City of Erie, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and its solid cross sector partnership for working to obtain these grants for your city. Our hope is that these grants will help Erie to implement place-based efforts that improve neighborhoods and reduce crime. During the first year of the enhancement grant, the Mercyhurst University Civic Institute together with partners from the Little Italy neighborhood will conduct research and data analysis. The remaining three years of the grant will be focused on innovative enforcement, prevention, reentry and revitalization strategies that the team develops. Likely for the first time in Erie, the strategies to be funded by this BCJI grant will integrate the exciting work already being done through the Community Action Plan, Erie Together, Erie’s Department of Economic and Community Development, the United Way, Positive Youth Development, PSN, the Erie Police and the Policy and Planning Council.
The enhancement efforts from this grant award should include PSN strategic enforcement action, chronic violent offender strategies, more visible police presence, increased understanding and prevention of youth exposure to violence and strong reintegration efforts for ex-offenders. The grant will help Erie to make data-driven planning decisions, using targeted research and input from the neighborhood network. The grant will reinforce the great work of Erie Together and its poverty reduction strategies.
On a larger scale, this grant and its funded strategies are just a beginning, just a template for continuing to improve the lives of citizens throughout Erie County. As these strategies grow and succeed in Erie, I encourage you to watch them expand throughout the County and watch as you grow together as a safer community. While it is true that national statistics reveal the good news that violent crime has trended downward, when you live in a neighborhood where you regularly hear gunfire, where someone has been shot and victimized, or where homes are broken into, you find little solace or comfort in crime statistics. Erie has demonstrated that it has committed people who have innovative ideas and strategies and who know how to work together. Congratulations, Erie!