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Valley News Dispatch

New Kensington officials urge residents to join neighborhood crime watches

Matthew Medsger
| Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, 1:51 p.m.
A neighborhood watch sign along Fifth Avenue in New Kensington. The city is hoping to expand citizen engagement through the watch program.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
A neighborhood watch sign along Fifth Avenue in New Kensington. The city is hoping to expand citizen engagement through the watch program.

New Kensington wants you to keep an eye out.

The city, in the midst of a revitalization in the downtown area, is moving to a new task to lessen blight: boosting crime fighting efforts.

City officials hope to better connect with the community by encouraging residents to get involved with neighborhood watch programs.

“With all of the good things that are happening in the city, we are looking at obtaining additional grant funding to bolster our public safety and involvement in our neighborhood watch groups,” Mayor Tom Guzzo said.

“They play such a big role in alerting our police, and alerting us to problems that are going on.”

The city currently has several watch groups that meet according to different schedules.

New Kensington police Chief Jim Klein said that from 2012 to 2016, rates of nearly every type of crime have gone down consistently and dramatically.

Klein said robberies are down in that period by about 11 percent, while assaults are down 39 percent, burglaries have dropped by 41 percent, theft is down 11 percent and auto theft is down 42 percent.

Klein said the city's 23-member police department couldn't tackle crime there without the help of neighborhood watch groups.

Sherf said that while neighborhood watch groups continue to meet regularly, a lot of the members are growing too old to actively participate — and new members haven't been stepping forward.

“Our membership is only dwindling due to age, but neighbors and residents are seeing what is happening. They are reluctant to come forward out of a fear of retaliation,” Sherf said. “People are calling 911 too infrequently.

“So the message I want to get out is: to come to the meetings. We will teach you the skills on how to report what you see. The police can't be everywhere, but we can be their eyes and ears.”

Klein said residents shouldn't be afraid to call for police support.

“People say that things are not getting done, but people don't realize that if they don't call we don't get dispatched,” he said.

“We are at full staff, which is awesome, but we are still answering 1,600 calls a month. We are not going to be everywhere.”

Klein said part of the benefit of calling for police when help is needed is that the department has the ability to build a data set of where crimes are happening.

Calls to 911 can be made anonymously, Klein said, but dispatchers most likely will attempt to find out if weapons may be present.

Councilman Doug Aftanas said involving residents in the fight against crime is another step in the direction of fighting the blight that has plagued New Kensington. The city and Penn State New Kensington have been collaborating on building facade work and other improvements along several blocks of Fifth Avenue, where the university plans to open an entrepreneurial center with shared workspace in December.

Aftanas said the neighborhood watch groups also can help by notifying code enforcement officials about problem properties.

According to Sherf, the whole idea of watch programs is getting people to work together.

“It's neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675 or mmedsger@tribweb.com.

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