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New group has Brownsville residents looking for crime

| Friday, June 22, 2007

They strode through the borough's upper South Side, dressed in orange-and-black T-shirts professing their goal of "Building a Brighter Brownsville."

If not for the lack of treat bags, the mob of 30 might have been mistaken for being a little too old to be going door-to-door.

But members of the Brownsville Community Neighborhood Watch weren't looking for any handouts.

They were soliciting their neighbors' help to report incidents of vandalism, drugs and litter to authorities, to bring faith and pride to the town, and to hold the borough's officials accountable for citizens' complaints.

"I just think it's good to show there's a presence and let people know they're not alone," said Irene Franks, a 15-year borough resident and neighborhood watch block captain.

Volunteers revived the grass-roots neighborhood watch last summer. But it's taken shape and forged a higher profile in the past three weeks, after several residents bombarded council with pleas for more police coverage in the cash-strapped, blighted borough.

Chiefly, residents have carped that they're furious about disrespectful and often-violent youths, careless quad drivers, and drug deals in plain vision.

The complaints even eclipse concern about a proposed Olympic-style bicycling arena, called a velodrome, that could displace several downtown properties, including Brownsville's post office and library.

"The velodrome is the least of our worries now," said Barb Herre, who chairs the block captains.

"We need to get our town back in shape," she added.

Wednesday's walk was the second this month, as volunteers stuffed fliers into doors and newspaper containers to advertise the group's monthly meeting last night at the South Brownsville fire hall.

Watch members said they believe a June 5 march through the borough's North Side encouraged court testimony against an 18-year-old borough resident who is accused of harassing five people during late-afternoon and early-evening hours between June 3 and June 7.

Derrick L. Royster, of 3 Huron St., allegedly trespassed on one woman's yard and pulled her by the hair, refused to move from the middle of Baltimore Street and threatened to beat up a 60-year-old driver, and screamed warnings at a couple after banging on their front door.

The alleged victims include Mayor Lewis Hosler, who claims Royster threw an object, believed to be a stone, at his van.

When the mayor stepped out to confront him, Royster allegedly tossed another object that went over Hosler's head and the vehicle.

Royster is awaiting arraignment next month in Fayette County Court on charges of terroristic threats, disorderly conduct, harassment and recklessly endangering.

Hosler said residents, including himself, are fighting back by gathering license plate numbers, taking pictures and turning over other pertinent information to authorities.

Although the neighborhood watch efforts are heartening, Hosler said it's a big change from when people felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked.

"Now you walk down the street, they want to hit you with a brick, or worse," Hosler said.

"I've lived here 63 years. I don't plan on moving, and I don't plan on anyone running me out of town."

Another three police officers, bringing the full-time force to five, would help to bring the town under control, Hosler said.

The borough, however, which raised taxes by almost 1 mill and laid off its police from December through mid-March, can't afford any more officers.

State police at Belle Vernon respond when Brownsville's two officers are off duty.

A handful of residents suggested another tax increase this month at a public safety committee meeting, but Hosler calls the idea "asinine."

"You raise taxes in Brownsville (by) 2 mills, I know you'll have more empty houses," he said.

Despite for-sale signs or boarded-up windows on several prominent buildings, some residents still have hope for Brownsville.

Heidi Kovscek paraded along Wednesday's walk with her five kids, ranging from 10 years old to an 11-month-old in a stroller.

She and her husband, Mark, join in a Friday morning children's Bible study through the Brownsville Ministerial Association.

"We just have a heart for the youth in the community, and there's just such a need for people to reach out to them to be the adult figures they don't have," the 11-year resident said.

While some residents have declared publicly that they are fed up and considering moving, Herre said the neighborhood watch wants to discourage those attitudes.

"We're telling them to at least hold on, wait," she said.

"Give us a chance to see if we can make a difference in the community."

For more information about the Brownsville Community Neighborhood Watch, contact Norma Ryan, president, at (724) 785-9387 or Patty Columbia, secretary, at (724) 785-6691.

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