Seeing an uptick of shootings in Harrisburg, city officials on Monday sent out a plea for the community to help stop the gun violence.
At a press conference, Mayor Eric Papenfuse and Police Commissioner Thomas Carter urged residents to show that they care for the youth in the city by working alongside the police to stop the shootings.
“We are actively trying to do something here, but we need community partners,” Carter said. “I see my officers out there teary-eyed trying to save these people’s lives. The only people I see out there are my officers.”
From Oct. 16 to Nov. 16, there have been 67 shots fired. Of those incidents, there were 24 victims and four homicides, Carter said. Recently, many shootings have involved youth.
“Right now, we are in the middle of a perfect storm,” Carter said citing the pandemic, as children are at home and not in school.
According to Carter, some of the recent shootings have been gang-related. He said Harrisburg participates in a county-wide juvenile gang task force to address the issue.
The Harrisburg Police Bureau has also received help from state, county and local law enforcement agencies, along with the federal government to combat the violence. Still, Carter said community participation is necessary.
“We can’t do much without the help of the public,” Carter said. “There’s no such thing as snitching.”
Kevin Maxson, CEO of activist group Voices for the Voiceless, said that he has been frustrated with the community, as well.
“You see all the commentary on social media, but you don’t see people out here,” he said. “The people with the opinions don’t do nothing but talk.”
Since 2016, Carter said that the police have taken 1,067 guns off the street, including handguns and assault rifles, among others.
“You’ve got to ask for help because I don’t know what is going on in each individual household within the city,” Carter said.
Papenfuse believes that part of the solution is more community policing in Harrisburg.
Last week he proposed a plan to beef up the community services department of the police bureau by creating 12 new jobs for “community service aides” who will assist officers and strengthen relationships with the community. Under the plan, Blake Lynch, currently community policing coordinator, would be promoted to director of community relations to oversee the civilian positions.
Papenfuse said that the city is also considering hiring a crime analyst, bodycam footage manager and records management system manager.
In total, the new investments will cost the city over $1 million.
“Far from defunding the Harrisburg police department, we are going to invest more than ever in it,” he said. “We are going to reorganize it and make it more reflective of the community’s needs and desires.”
The new positions will be voted on by City Council as part of the 2021 general budget.
“What we need to see in our community is respectful dialogue,” Papenfuse said. “We need to teach our youth to not resort to violence as a way of solving their issues.”
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