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Anti-violence group aims to improve lives

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 11:51 p.m.

A new commission charged with seeking ways to prevent violence hopes to do that by fundamentally improving people's lives.

“We're not just talking about reducing homicides,” said Dr. Ronald E. Voorhees, the acting director of the Allegheny County Health Department and co-chair of the commission. “We're talking about what are the things we can do to change the fabric of the communities in Allegheny County so that violence doesn't occur.”

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald formed the 23-member Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Health on Thursday to address violence as a public health issue. The commission will submit a report in a year.

“The proof will be in the results,” said Jim Roddey, a former county executive. “If they can come up with something that we are not doing now or something that we aren't doing enough, then it would be worthwhile.

“Otherwise, it's just another study.”

Commission members acknowledged concern during their first meeting on Thursday about talking for a year, writing a study and then setting it on a shelf, said the Rev. Earlene Coleman, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport and the commission's other co-chair.

“It has to have legs. It has to be able to walk,” Coleman said.

The commission is the latest from Fitzgerald. In February, a dozen “vision teams” released a 710-page report packed with proposals to improve county government. County officials have implemented some, such as allowing gas drilling at the airport and forming a facilities management department, said Amie Downs, a county spokeswoman. Fitzgerald sent other proposals to the county manager and department heads, who have six months to respond.

Roddey thought it was a good idea for Fitzgerald to study violence as a health issue, not just as a gun issue. A year, however, sounds too long, said Roddey, who suggested six months. Anything longer and the sense of urgency fades, he said. The commission, which includes heads of community organizations, mental health professionals, lawmakers, a police chief, a high school principal and county employees, also must narrow its focus, he said.

“When you just say, ‘Let's talk about mental health,' it's like saying, ‘Let's talk about world peace,' ” Roddey said.

The group will start to narrow its focus at its next meeting in June, Coleman said. T. Rashad Byrdsong, president and CEO of Community Empowerment Association, said he will bring issues of education, poverty, job training and the distribution of county money to grass-roots organizations to the commission's attention.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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