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Sharon, Farrell leaders ask for residents’ help

Published: Wed, January 28, 2009 @ 12:06 a.m.

By Jeanne Starmack

People need to be involved with their kids and in their neighborhoods, community leaders say.

SHARON, Pa. — When Riley Smoot was a kid, he would sling a snow shovel across his shoulder and set out to make a few bucks after a big snow.

His parents would push him to do it. Now, said Smoot, the Southwest Regional Police Department chief, kids walk in the streets after school because sidewalks aren’t shoveled, and people complain about that.

“So shovel sidewalks,” said Smoot, who was part of a panel at a town meeting Tuesday for residents of Sharon and Farrell.

“We had parents and people pushing when I was a kid. We don’t have that anymore,” he said.

With that statement, Smoot nailed a theme that emerged from the meeting, called by the Sharon and Farrell area Weed and Seed: Parents and neighbors don’t get involved in kids’ lives or in their neighborhoods, and that contributes to crime and vandalism.

Once a neighborhood runs down, blight takes over and scares away development, pointed out Mark Yerskey, Farrell’s code officer, and there was the meeting’s other major theme. A builder won’t build a house next to one that’s abandoned, boarded up and full of rats, he said. The cities need residents to get involved, he said: “Especially in these times.”

Forty-one people attended the meeting for presentations by Smoot, Yerskey and other government and schools representatives.

How can a community get involved and make changes, one of those people asked after presentations were over and the panel took questions.

“Come forward and stand up for what they believe in,” said Sharon Councilman Victor Heutsche, an attorney.

“Charges get dismissed because people don’t want to testify, and that has to stop,” he said. “People have to take responsibility for their community.”

“We have a problem with graffiti and litter,” said Michael Menster, Sharon’s police chief. "Cigarette butts, bottles and cans in the streets. When people see kids doing it and ignore it, then it becomes a part of life. Kids realize they can get away with it and it grows.”

Don’t let that sort of blight become the norm, Menster told the audience, even if it means calling someone’s parents.

Lynne Powell, the Farrell schools’ community outreach specialist, said anyone who is interested in tutoring or mentoring can call the outreach office.

“We need more tutors — people with patience,” said Farrell Mayor Olive McKeithan.

“Do students feel they can do it, and is it important to mom and dad,” said Gary McElfresh, supervisor of student services in Sharon schools. He “can’t say enough” about Edline, an online program that lets parents keep track of their children’s progress in school.

Mentoring through the Urban League, said Heutsche, who’s done it, can help young people shake the sense of despair over a lack of opportunities.

Officials also talked about how many blighted houses are set right now for demolition — 50 in Farrell and 60 in Sharon.

And they talked about what they would like to see happen for their communities.

Menster said he’d like a return to community policing, when there were funds available to station officers in high-crime neighborhoods 24 hours a day. They’d walk the streets and play basketball with the kids, he said.

Smoot said he’d like to see an atmosphere in which a family isn’t afraid to sit on its front porch.

Adrienne Gordon, a community planner with Community Action Partnership of Mercer County, administers the Weed and Seed program. The program’s goal is to weed out crime in the cities and seed them with resources, money, volunteers and opportunities, she said.

She said input from the meeting will be used to develop the program’s revitalization plan for 2009-10. The program will disburse $200,000, with half of it mandated for law enforcement, she said.

Activities for youths and clearing out blight seemed to be the clear list toppers of community concerns, she said.


1Heard_it_all_before(62 comments)posted 7 years, 6 months ago

There are three readily identifiable factors that are inextricably related. Dealing with them requires the full cooperation and participation of police, citizens and community leaders. First and foremost, citizens must be willing to take a stand and take back their neighborhoods. That involves very real risk - taking the chance of experiencing retaliation from gangs and thugs who seek to control the streets. The police must earn the trust and respect of the citizens they serve and provide firm, fair and consistent law enforcement services that are predicated upon what the community needs and wants from their department. That often gets lost in the bureaucratic shuffle of trying to comply with the various and often questionable requirements attached to state and federal grants. It is a variation of the old "carrot and stick" approach - if you don't eat the carrot, the Feds hit you with the stick (you don't get the grant money). Funding should be tailored to local needs and accountability should be via accepted practices. Lastly, cities must find all ways possible to adequately fund the law enforcement efforts in a community. Keeping things safe and orderly is always cheaper than restoring order that has been lost. Prevention is always cheaper than treatment. But all the funding in the world will not help until people who live in the community get good and mad. When they have had enough - when they rise up and face down the threat - police and political leaders need to be there to follow through. Find the criminals, confront them, investigate, arrest and convict them. Then the judges must not let them out on bail, probation or parole so they can maim or kill another victim. It is too easy to throw up one's jands and say there is nothing that can be done. All the vocal apologists will call for the heads of police chiefs, mayors and council people, but pressure comes and pressure goes. I don't believe that we are helpless and I have personally seen crack and heroin infested neighborhoods reclaimed and rehabilitated. Evidence of success can be measured in Chief Smoot's terms as well as statistically - when children play outside and citizens sit on porches at night - the good people have prevailed and we are no longer prisoners in our own homes. Do we have the will to get it done?

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2dirk6665(2 comments)posted 7 years, 5 months ago

I agree with this user's comments 100%. And I'd like to add a few comments of my own... It seem that every year, more and more is being "looked the other way". I am a Sharon resident. When I drive the streets near my home I stop at each and every stop sign because that is the law. How many times I reach an intersection first and come to a complete stop -- and a car approaches and before I have the opportunity to pull out with the right-of-way the other driver will coast right through the intersection! Couple that with the NO PARKING infractions, parking too close to stop signs and fire hydrants, the music that blares out of people's vehicles, the gangs walking down the streets, unruly kids, drug useage in plain sight, littering and public disturbances in the middle of the night, stopped vehicles in the middle of roadways and alleys, large crowds of youths walking down the middle of a road forcing cars to go around them... now I'm sorry, if I'm just a resident who notices all this -- you can't tell me the Police and Authorities don't see this as well. The question is: Why isn't anyone ENFORCING THE LAWS? I was told it was because it would create too many calls to the mayor. "WHAT?" So what?! If you call the mayor angry and upset because you got a fine for breaking the law -- then you should get another fine for being stupid TWICE. My point about the traffic offenses is the example and error of compounding overlooked violations. When the people who are breaking the law see that nobody is enforcing it - it causes a downhill spiral of more laws being broken. This results in, the crime rate - and the crime magnitude, increasing every year. 'Well, I get away with running stop signs and listening to my music loud, maybe I'll bring my gun with me too.' We need a strong force to bring our communities back to one where you can feel safe to walk the streets, enjoy our porches and yards, live in quiet peace and allow our children to play outdoors. In order to achieve this we need to come together as a community and we need the willingness and agressive commitment from leaders and police to help us reach our goal. We need to tell the criminals, vandals, drug dealers and thugs "We own this neighborhood - not you and we are not going to let you destroy it!!!" I would rather live in a 'Police State' than a neighborhood run by gangs, thugs and criminals. I'm sorry - but the time for 'looking the other way' is passed and if we don't do something soon -- very soon -- then the places we once thought of as home will be the very nightmares from which we want to escape. Personally, I have too much money invested in my home and nobody should ever be forced to leave because they feel entrapped. I would love to hear from anyone who is interested in getting involved to make a difference. You can contact me via email and I will pave a road for us to be heard! Contact me at: info@theshenangovalley.com

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