WILKES-BARRE — The state Senate Democratic Policy Committee will hold a roundtable discussion Tuesday on the problem of violence and violent crime with a special focus on issues facing the urban centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Senators John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, are among those expected to participate in the public forum, which begins at 11 a.m. in the Sheehy-Farmer Campus Center, King’s College.
Other invited panelists are state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan and the district attorneys of Luzerne, Carbon and Lackawanna counties. Also asked to join the conversation will be the police chiefs from Nanticoke, Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre.
Lawmakers and other officials would benefit from hearing the on-the-ground stories that law enforcement members can share, Yudichak said. He has a greater understanding of the problems, he said, thanks to a series of forums he helped organize and has attended since last year. Dubbed “Operation Gang Up,” the forum has been held four times — with a goal of helping to combat gang activity in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
While gangs aren’t to blame for all of the crime, they are a contributing factor, said Yudichak, and a federal report details some of the reasons they’re here.
The U.S. Department of Justice reported in 2010 and 2011 that gangs were moving into Hazleton because of its proximity to the interstates, metro areas such as New York and Philadelphia, the market for drugs and a limited police presence. But, Yudichak said, the report was a wake-up call for more than Hazleton; it was eye-opening for the entire region, he said.
“Gangs are operating in the region,” said Teri Ooms, one of the panelists involved in the Operation Gang Up series. “Our local law enforcement is challenged by municipal finances.”
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said: “Regional crime problems require regional solutions. This roundtable discussion is a good first step to bring all of the necessary parties together for a frank discussion of where we are as a community and where we need to be.”