Focus On Crime In Luzerne County

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WILKES-BARRE -- The state attorney general and the head of the state police met with local police chiefs Tuesday in Luzerne County to discuss ways to fight crime following cuts to funding and staffing.

But their focus on community members taking back their neighborhoods on their own has some people concerned.

In the past week, a crime watch group has been credited with giving tips to police that led to a drug bust in Hazleton.

Discussions of an armed citizen's patrol plus a homeowner who shot an alleged burglar this past weekend have some people worried that their neighbors could try to take the justice system into their own hands.

Police and prosecutors in Luzerne County say they are overwhelmed by the number of violent crimes they've seen in the past six months. Those crimes include the February shooting death of Angel Villalobos in Hazleton.

At a meeting organized by the Democratic lawmakers at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan and Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane talked with local politicians and police chiefs talked about their struggle with increased violence.

Noonan says many of the problems are from drug dealers from Philadelphia and New York.

"Somebody told me 'you can get $1100 for an ounce of cocaine in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. I got in my car drove here and I've been here ever since,'" Noonan said.

Attorney General Kane says volunteer crime watch groups are part of the answer to deter crime but not if they're armed.

"We don't want them to become a part of the problem. We want them to be the solution that they will be and really have a desire to be," said Kane.

Talk of organizing an independent armed citizen's patrol in Hazleton   concerns crime watch member Craig Budde. He worries that such an effort could actually provoke criminals.

"To them, that's like a dare, you know? I'm daring you to come and do something. And they're going to act on it. They're going to come taunt you, antagonize you, maybe even put a hand on their gun."

Budde says he talked to the man who shot an alleged burglar who broke into a home on Hayes Street Saturday. He says he supports the homeowner's decision to defend his property.

Hazleton police haven't filed any charges yet in that case but Chief Frank DeAndrea says he's certain volunteer patrollers shouldn't be packing heat.

"Legitimately, there are laws against that. You cannot act as a police officer if you are not."

Police chiefs at the round table at King's College urged lawmakers on the panel to reinstate money that pays for police departments and county prosecutors to train crime watch members on how to safely and legally monitor or patrol their neighborhood.