I once again find myself in the precarious position of writing outside of the typical Webb Weekly wheelhouse.
I spent weeks writing about the heroin epidemic in our city. I did my homework. I talked to Assistant Chief Miller, D.A. Linhardt, Judge Nancy Butts, Mayor Campana and members on the Recovery Community Initiative. I shared that information will all of you and I hope that you learned as much about this problem as I did. I hope you took that information and shared it with your loved ones. If the information I presented gave ONE person the facts that needed to keep their kid off drugs, I consider my mission accomplished.
When I finished the series, I felt like I wanted to do more. I wanted to help more. I wanted to see this city the way my parents and grandparents tell stories about. Then I received an email from Assistant Chief of Police Tim Miller giving me that opportunity.
On Thursday April 24, I attended the first TEAM WILLIAMSPORT meeting, organized by Asst. Chief Miller. 35-40 people gathered at the meeting, including City Council members and the Mayor. At this meeting Miller discussed his hopes for this organization. He hoped that we could come together as a community to do what we can to battle the drug epidemic in our community. He hoped that we could work together to lessen the divide between residents and the police department. He hoped for hope.
Miller also asked for our help. You can have meetings all you want, but he called for immediate action. He requested our presence the following day to join him, the Chief of Police, city codes officials and the Mayor as notice was posted on two rental properties that they would be shut down for the next six months due to ongoing drug activity.
Despite the rainy weather, we showed up. Just shy of 50 people by my count. We gathered in the parking lot near the post office on Center St. The Chief, Assistant Chief and Mayor said a few words and then we walked up Hepburn St. to the property that would be shut down. It was so nice to see strangers introducing themselves to one another, coming together on the common ground of doing something, anything, to show they have a vested interest in saving our city from drugs and dealers.
In the days that followed I saw a lot of backlash to the event. Talks of raids and dangers to citizens. Oddly enough, the backlash seemed to come from people who didn’t even attend the event.
Over the years, I have been called melodramatic a time or two, but to refer to what the city was doing that day as a raid, is the epitome of melodrama. It was a simple process and as a matter of fact – there wasn’t even anyone in the second property that we went to.
I spoke to a woman who brought her children to the event with her. I asked her what prompted her to bring her kids along and she said, “I felt they were safer with me and the police than they are in their own front yard. We can’t be on our front porch without fear of the drug dealers in our neighborhood. I have found needles and drugs in my front yard. I was proud to have my kids there with me.” She also noted that her kids wanted to come along. “They understand that we were there to help get rid of drugs and guns. They were proud to be a part of it too.” She also said that she brought her kids along as a lesson on bullying – to show her children that regardless of age or situation, it is not ok to allow yourself to be bullied by anyone.
In regards to danger – at no point did I feel the least bit unsafe. Yes, we were ‘unarmed citizens’. But we were unarmed citizens doing what we could to make a statement. Drug dealers are not welcome here. How can you possibly see a downside to that? Where is the downside of a community working together towards a common goal of bettering our city? Of making it safer and taking it back to the glory days that I often hear people reminisce about.
To imply that the Williamsport Bureau of Police had anything other than the utmost concern for our safety is ridiculous. It doesn’t benefit anyone to use scare tactics in regards to what TEAM WILLIAMSPORT did or has plans to do in the future.
I encourage everyone to attend a TEAM WILLIAMSPORT meeting before you make a judgment call about our safety, or the efficacy of what we are trying to do. I am proud to know that I am trying to do something to better the city that I live in. I am proud to be a member of TEAM WILLIAMSPORT. This team is in its infancy, and by no means do we have all the answers, or will we make all the right decisions, but at the end of the day, I know that I am not sitting idly by while this city falls apart and is overrun by dealers. If you want to learn more about this community policing program, the next meeting is Thursday, May 8 at 7:00 p.m. in the Sechler Room on the 2nd floor at City Hall.