FBI data currently indicates that Pennsylvania’s violent crime rate exceeds any other northeastern state’s, and a county prosecutor told state senators this week he attributes much of that reality to difficulty recruiting and retaining police officers.
Cambria County District Attorney Gregory Neugebauer testified before the Senate Republican Policy Committee alongside other law enforcement professionals to illuminate what is driving up crime in the Keystone State and what can be done about it. The hearing, held at the Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensberg, was the first of several the panel is hosting this week to address crime prevention in conjunction with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Committee Chair Mario Scavello (R-Mount Pocono) cited federal statistics at the hearing, showing that violent crimes increased five percent from 2019 to 2020 and homicides increased by 27.1 percent – the most significant year-to-year increase the commonwealth has ever seen. Pennsylvania experienced 1,009 murders that year, nearly 8 for every 100,000 people. No state saw as great a year-to-year jump in violent offenses.
Difficulties that Neugebauer mentioned regarding attracting people to the police profession include training costs and time commitments, both of which he said have been ongoing concerns. Yet a new challenge for recruitment and retention has been increasingly hostile public attitudes toward law enforcement.
“Once you are a police officer, you’re not always well respected,” he said. “I will caveat that. We are lucky here; our community does like our police [and] does support our police as a whole. We don’t have a lot of issues here relative to that.”
Since the wave of Black Lives Matter protests and riots across the country in 2020, radical anti-law-enforcement movements like police de-funding and prison abolition have gained support among many left-wing politicians and commentators.
Area police officials from Johnstown and nearby municipalities seconded Neugebauer’s concern about recruitment and retention.
“I think as long as we have the manpower to enforce [the laws] we have on the books, that would be the start,” Richland Township Police Chief Michael Burgan said. “We have to increase the boots on the ground.”
Burgan furthermore said that skyrocketing crime in Philadelphia has created spillover problems even in western parts of the state including in his own locale near Johnstown. The City of Brotherly Love has seen unprecedented rates of murder, carjacking, and other crimes under District Attorney Larry Krasner (D), a prosecutor who initially ran for office in 2017 on a platform of relaxed enforcement. Krasner is among a number of leftist district attorneys across the nation in recent years whose campaigns have been supported financially by progressive billionaire George Soros.
Burgan also told senators that another facet of the violent crime problem has been the worsening presence of opioids, particularly heroin and fentanyl, which are exacerbating property crimes as well.
Scavello echoed the officials’ call for more robust enforcement and the manpower to perform it.
“We have laws on the books that should and must be enforced for us to determine if what we have in place is working,” the senator said. “The effects of soft-on-crime policies are not limited to just areas that implement such approaches, because crime knows no boundaries. Crime left unchecked creates a negative impact and affects cities to suburbs to counties, boroughs and [other] municipalities.”
The chairman, himself a former mayor, noted that the state has undertaken some criminal justice reforms in recent years that he considers worthwhile, including a measure to expunge the criminal records of those who have been acquitted or pardoned and legislation to better facilitate drug treatment.
– – –
Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Greg Neugebauer” by Greg Neugebauer. Background Photo “Pennsylvania State Senate Chamber” by Bestbudbrian. CC BY-SA 3.0.