Violence Top of Mind for Mayor, Council

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: News

McKeesport City Council had a light February agenda. But the topics discussed by council members and Mayor Michael Cherepko were anything but light.

At their Feb. 1 meeting, officials voiced their frustration with ongoing and well-publicized gun violence, and discussed strategies for combatting it.

"The thing that scares me is the randomness of it," Councilman Jim Barry said. "They seem to be shooting for no reason."

Shots being fired during daylight hours are especially "shocking and intimidating," he said.

"It's one of the reasons I ran for council," Councilman Tim Brown added. "We all, as a city, need to step out and step up and do the same thing -- we need to let these kids know we care about them."

Cherepko said he hears, and feels, the same frustration as other residents, although he adds that reports of shootings on social media need to be kept in perspective.

"Do you know how many shooting deaths we actually had in McKeesport last year?" he said. "I've seen people saying we've had 10, 40, 60, 80. Actually, we had two. That's two too many, but there's a lot of misinformation out there. The number of shots-fired calls are down as well."

He credits saturation and suppression patrols by city and Allegheny County police with getting illegal firearms off the streets, and with discouraging additional violence.

"Unfortunately, what happens then is that the same people who say we're not doing anything about crime and violence are the ones who call and complain when their son or daughter gets pulled over," Cherepko said.

Those suppression patrols have also bothered some residents, said Councilwoman Fawn Walker-Montgomery, who cautioned that some people have legitimate concerns about a stepped-up police presence. "There is mistrust of the police, and there's a reason why there's this mistrust," she said.

Reports around the country of unarmed people being shot by police have made some people fearful, Walker-Montgomery said, "and it's a realistic fear."

But Cherepko said McKeesport's policy of asking police officers to live within the city has instilled an ethos of "community policing" in officers.

"It's a way of life for our police," he said. "They work in the community, they live in the community and it's amazing to me how many of our officers coach (youth sports) in the community."

Council members discussed in-school and after-school programs for young people and their parents. "Everything is on the table," Cherepko said, adding that education is also needed about drug addiction --- particularly prescription drugs related to heroin, called "opioids" --- also needs to be addressed.

He said that city hall hopes soon to be able to announce a partnership with a large non-profit to address community violence. Police are looking at technological solutions as well, Cherepko said.

Councilwoman LuEthel Nesbit said she hopes parents and guardians in particular have open minds, and a willingness to curb violent acts by their children.

"The missing piece in all of this is the parents," she said. "We have got to find a way to get the parents to the table, because no matter what you do out in the community, at some point, they have got to go home."

Originally published February 09, 2017.

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