Erie stocks up on prison gear after shootings, but leaves community without answers

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By Yaël Ossowski  | Watchdog.org

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice
awarded Erie, Penn., $600,000 to revitalize its crime-troubled Little
Italy neighborhood, and another $300,000 to help combat violence
throughout the city.

The money never came.

Last week, following several shootings, the Erie City Council agreed to spend $25,000 to boost police equipment in the city’s jails, upgrading the systems that take fingerprints and mugshots of suspects.

The contract was awarded to Dataworks Plus, a Greenville, S.C., technology company that equips police departments.

The motion to accept the funding was
quickly rushed through the Erie City Council’s July 15 meeting after
hearing comments from local citizens, most of whom urged more
community-based measures and less spending on police alone.

The gear will be purchased by the Erie
Drug and Vice crime unit, responsible for crimes involving the sale of
illegal drugs and related violence.

The Erie Police Department did not return
Watchdog.org’s call for a comment on how the equipment will be more
useful to thwarting violent crimes in the city.

On July 11, 18-year-old Jacob Pushinsky was shot and
killed after refusing to give up his bicycle to 14-year-old suspect
Derry Sanders, Jr., according to the police report. His death, one of
nearly a dozen in just a few months, has shocked the community.

Some citizens see an issue with the approach the City Council has taken to try to reduce violent crimes in Erie.

“We keep trying the same types of ideas, and the same types of programs and it doesn’t work,” said resident Dan Myzinski during the meeting’s public comments. “We keep attacking the symptoms, but we’re not looking at the real problem, which is poverty.”

The director of the county department of
health, Melissa Lyon, told the Erie Times-News the violence issue should
be approached from a public health perspective rather than solely
restocking local jails.

“It’s about how people have learned how to live, a culture and behaviors that create and spread the violence,” said Lyon.

Violence has plagued the city in recent years, making Erie one of the most dangerous cities to live in Pennsylvania.

In the past week alone, there have been
11 reported violent incidents with a firearm, mostly aggravated assault,
according to police records.

An Erie citizen has a 1 in 219 chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime, while the Pennsylvania state average is 1 in 298.

“Improving historic neighborhoods such as
Little Italy benefits Pennsylvania in several ways,” U.S. Sen. Pat
Toomey, R-Penn., in 2013, when the city still looked forward to the
federal grant money. “Most notably, improvements make our streets safer
for families while creating a more favorable environment for economic
growth and increased tourism.”

The money was supposed to be shared with
the Mercyhurst University Civic Institute, which would have gathered
statistics on poverty, crime, and urban blight in Erie, according to the
original grant.

Yaël Ossowski is a Canadian-American journalist and writer living in Vienna. He is founder and editor of Devolution Review, deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter at Watchdog.org. He has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) from the CEVRO Institute in Prague and a Bachelor's in Political Science from Concordia University, Montreal. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria, and his writings have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online outlets across the world in multiple languages.
Website https://yael.ca
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