Violent crime, drugs, police staffing, the Routes 51-88 construction project, absentee landlords, and potholes were among the topics addressed by Mayor William Peduto in Carrick on July 30.
It was the sixth installment of his “Mayor’s Night Out/Mayor’s Night In,” community session in which he and his top administrators field questions from city residents.
About 75 people attended the forum at Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
Among the city administrators present were Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar; Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin; Chief Administration Officer Debbie Lestitian; Chief Urban Affairs Officer Valerie McDonald-Roberts; Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa; Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI) Chief Maura Kennedy; City Planning Director Ray Gastil; Public Works Deputy Director Lee Haller; and others.
Council members Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus were also present.
The meeting began with John Rudiak, president of Carrick Community Council (CCC), stating the event was being sponsored by the CCC.
Prior to audience participation, Mayor Peduto said someone from the city will get back to the questioner with an answer at a later date concerning questions for which there are no answers that night.
The forum began with a Carrick resident stating the neighborhood is known as “crack alley” for the proliferation of drug activity.
“We can’t seem to get past the revolving door,” she said of drug dealers being arrested, then let out of jail the next day to return to the neighborhood.
Besides those laws which need changed, another problem is the absentee landlords who are renting to drug users and criminals and anyone else regardless of the impact on the community, the resident said.
She cited one man who buys numerous houses and sells them overseas to people who become absentee landlords.
Ms. Kennedy said there are tools on the state level that can be used, but it is hard to prevent the sales of property.
Mr. Bucar said he forwarded to the police chief some of the problem addresses the local block watch gave him, but that more patrols are only a temporary fix.
“It puts a band-aid in place,” he said.
A drug dealer must sell drugs to an undercover officer or to someone else who is willing to testify. That is the system he must work within, he said.
“It’s a long process,” he said.
Ms. Rudiak said she wants to form a task force to attack the problems, whether through targeted building inspections or legislative solutions.
There is also an on-going effort to get cameras for Brownsville Rd.
The Carrick resident said someone who is on five to six years of probation was arrested recently in the neighborhood, and drugs were found on him.
He received a slap on the wrist, and was let go, she said.
“Right now, they’re laughing at us,” she said of the criminals.
Mr. Bucar said it used to be a small amount of marijuana got someone sent to jail. Today, they must be let go and sent a summons.
The change must be made in Harrisburg, he said.
Next, a South Side resident said the city used to distribute booklets with the names and addresses of all council members. While the information may be on-line, it is not accessible to seniors who do not know how to use computers.
She also said zoning issues are of concern in South Side, and residents would like more cameras off Carson St. and into the residential areas.
The mayor asked an administrator to look into doing a booklet again.
He also said the camera policy is being evaluated as it involves a federal grant, and therefore may have restrictions.
A Carrick resident next complained about potholes, and also that she never sees salt trucks in winter in the Plateau St. area.
Mr. Costa said to call 311 so there is a record of the complaint. He also said he would check out the pothole problem.
Mr. Haller said public works is looking at implementing technology to ensure the snow plows are being used in the most efficient way.
Regarding the Routes 51-88 construction, a woman said while she is excited about the reconfiguration project, someone has to look at those living above St. Norbert’s as they are currently limited in ways to get out. Ivyglen St. is the problem.
The detour route calls for those residents to use Underwood St., and make a left turn onto Route 51 to access Route 88 and Glenbury St., which is very dangerous.
Mr. Costa said he would call PennDOT.
Mayor Peduto said because it is not a city project, he cannot order PennDOT to do something. But getting everyone involved in the same room will be a big step.
Another resident said some of the problem would be solved if motorists were allowed to make a left turn onto Route 51 at the Dairy Queen. But Whitehall will not permit that, she said.
As a result, property values are plummeting, and residents do not feel safe outdoors after dark.
Mr. Bucar said the administration is looking at restructuring the zones.
Mr. Kraus said Zone 3 has the highest number of calls of the six zones, and is the least staffed. If there are no vacations, the highest level of staffing on a Friday evening is seven to 11 officers across the 16 neighborhoods in the zone.
“That is the root of the problem,” he said.
Mayor Peduto said the city is applying for a federal grant to hire more police. There are also more graduation classes coming.
A longtime local firefighter suggested adding saturation patrols, and involving BBI and the Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) in attacking the problems in Carrick.
“It’s showing our residents that you’re doing something,” he said.
Mr. Bucar said it frustrates him every day, but criteria must be met to make an arrest.
“I understand your frustration,” he said.
Mayor Peduto said the city cannot simply hire lots of officers as there is a budget to consider.
At the current rate, the city will be financially stable by 2019, he said.
But public safety needs do take center stage.
“We’ll find a way to get the resources Carrick needs,” he said.