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State Grant Will Fund 'Multi-Faceted' Program to Reduce Gun Violence in City

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
September 07, 2018
Posted in: Crime and Police News, McKeesport and Region News

State officials have awarded almost $150,000 to McKeesport police and partner agencies to create a program designed to reduce gun violence in the city.

The grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency was announced Friday by state Sen. Jim Brewster and state Rep. Austin Davis, both of McKeesport.

It will fund a new McKeesport Gun Violence Reduction Program designed by the office of Mayor Mike Cherepko, city police Chief Bryan Washowich, and other local and county leaders, including volunteers and churches.

The program will be modeled after successful strategies used in other cities to get illegal guns off the streets, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office said, and will work with young people in an effort to convince them not to resort to violence in the first place.

The program to be implemented in McKeesport will have to show measurable outcomes to state officials, said Jen Vertullo, assistant to the mayor. It will build on the so-called "Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence," as well as the "What Works in Community Policing?" study done by the University of California at Berkeley, she said.

Youth mentoring and afterschool programs will play a key role, Vertullo said.

The Boston Strategy was created by police, churches, social service agencies and youth groups in Massachusetts in the late 1990s. Parts of it have already been adapted by McKeesport police, but the state's funding will allow further implementation, the mayor's office said.

"It's a multi-faceted approach to reducing violent crime in our community," Cherepko said. "We are trying to change things on the community level and on the family level."

The grant can be used for personnel, equipment and consulting fees, a state spokesman said.

McKeesport's program will incorporate what city officials are calling proactive policing, early intervention strategies, community outreach and community policing.

"Some of it will be new, some of it will be putting more resources behind things we already have in place," Cherepko said. "We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we are trying to apply (techniques) in such a way that the end result is a measurable reduction (in) gun violence."

The McKeesport program will include collaboration between the Allegheny County District Attorney's office, the county Health Department, juvenile and adult probation officers, Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi, McKeesport Area School District, the McKeesport Healthier Communities PartnerSHIP and the McKeesport Area Ministerium.

McKeesport is one of eight municipalities across the state awarded grants totalling $1.5 million this week through the state's Gun Violence Reduction Initiative.

The initiative was first announced in May by Gov. Tom Wolf and Derin Myers, PCCD acting executive director, and was a competitive process which required communities to submit detailed plans with measurable goals, state officials said.

“This funding to help municipalities address their specific needs to reduce gun violence is an important to step to protect Pennsylvanians and make our communities the safest they can be,” Wolf said Friday. “I am pleased the commonwealth was able to make funding available to help avert gun violence in these municipalities and hope that these efforts can be expanded to more communities.”

Pittsburgh, Erie, Johnstown and Monessen also received funding Friday through the initiative.

“I realize the incredible challenges cities, school districts and housing authorities face in dealing with gun violence,” Brewster said Friday. “State resources combined with local initiative can help save lives and protect communities.”

A former McKeesport mayor and councilman who still chairs the city's housing authority, Brewster congratulated city officials, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., Cherepko's office and others for working together on the city's successful application to the state.

“My hope is that the anti-gun violence grant program can be expanded so that more communities facing gun violence challenges are able to receive assistance,” Brewster said. 

News of the city's successful grant application comes as McKeesport police and Zappala's office are collaborating closely on a number of initiatives to reduce gun violence, including saturation patrols in certain city neighborhoods, and increased use of sophisticated cameras that can track vehicles and license plates at key intersections.

In addition, the district attorney's office is expected to be an anchor tenant in the new McKeesport Multi-Media Center --- being created in the former McKeesport Daily News Buidling --- where it will offer training for law enforcement officers and offices where prosecutors can meet with police, as well as space to monitor those traffic cameras.

“I’m happy to announce this state funding that will assist McKeesport in reducing gun violence,” Davis said. “The safety of our citizens is of the utmost importance, and this funding will assist the (McKeesport program) in successfully carrying out their mission of making the 35th Legislative District a safe place everyone is proud to call home.”

Jason Togyer is executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published September 07, 2018.

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