The reasons some people turn to crime are diverse and interconnected: Lack of educational opportunities, poor housing, bleak personal economic outlook, drug use, absence of family support and weak community infrastructure.
So, when state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, and Johnstown City Council put together a Drug and Crime Commission, they wanted to assemble a broad cross-section of individuals with knowledge in those areas.
Members came together for an organizational meeting on Thursday inside council chambers.
The group consists of Barbin as the chairman; former National Drug Intelligence Center Director Michael Walther; Johnstown police Chief Craig Foust; Cambria-Rowe Business College Executive Director Mike Artim; Cambria County First Assistant District Attorney Heath Long; Greater Johnstown High School Assistant Principal Michael Dadey; Christ Centered Community Church pastor, the Rev. Sylvia King; former Johnstown Economic Development Director Jim White; United Way of the Laurel Highlands President Bill McKinney; the Rev. Robert Wagner of Moxham Lutheran Church; West End resident George Evanisko; and Johnstown Housing Authority member John Slezak.
“We needed a panel that was diverse,” said Barbin. “It would have to represent the community as a whole: The churches, the neighborhoods, law enforcement and business owners. We’ve assembled a very good, diverse panel to look into this issue. We’re going to look at the issue rationally and we’re going to look at the issue respectfully. We’re going to see if there’s an uptick in crime, and, if there is, what are the factors that are affecting it.”
McKinney concurred, saying, “I think it’s a very good cross-section of our community.”
The panel will spend the next six months studying crime in Johnstown. Members will hold an open meeting on the second Thursday of every month.
Walther, McKinney, Wagner and Artim will chair the respective law enforcement, rehabilitation, housing and education subcommittees.
“It’s good to see a lot of people coming together with the same goal in mind, to make Johnstown a safer place to live,” said Foust. “Obviously, I don’t see anything bad coming out of it. I think it’s going to open a lot of people’s eyes to some of the statistics and so forth. It’s also going to work the other way and show that the perception within the city isn’t necessarily as bad as what a lot of people think.”
Recommendations will be made to City Council after all the information is collected.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction whatever fruits come out of it,” said Councilman Pete Vizza, who, along with Mayor Tom Trigona, came up with the idea of forming the commission.
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