WILKES-BARRE — Curbing violent crime and drug trafficking in Northeastern Pennsylvania with more police on the streets was the common remedy raised Tuesday at a conference at King’s College.
How does a municipality pay for more officers?
No one on the panel of seven state senators, prosecutors and several police chiefs offered an answer.
High-profile cases have called attention to crime in the county. State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, mentioned the killings of three people in a drug deal gone bad in Plymouth last year.
State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said drug pushers see “much profit and less resistance” in a county that has more part-time than full-time police officers.
Noonan said the state police are down 200 troopers, while more municipalities are relying upon the state police for services. There are nearly 1,700 municipalities in the state, including 27 in Luzerne County, that depend on state police.
“Cooperation and coordination is at an all-time high, but manpower is at an all-time low,” Noonan said while noting the sharing of information and enforcement initiatives among the state police, state Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and county district attorney offices.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said her office is stretched, with assistant district attorneys overwhelmed with cases and pressure from County Council to furlough a detective.
“We are being squeezed left and right,” Salavantis said. “This year I was going to lose a detective.”
County Detective Charles Balogh talked about the importance of community crime watch groups.
Residents in a Hazleton neighborhood were credited with providing information that led to the arrest of five people and the closing of a suspected drug house on Pine Tree Road on Friday, Salavantis said.
Most of the panel discussion involved the lack of money to pay for more officers.
Solutions discussed included initiating a stronger school truancy program and implementing after-school activities.
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane said children not involved in an after-school program are 70 percent more likely to get involved in crime from 3 to 11 p.m.