By all recent accounts in the local news, Harrisburg appears to have a problem on their hands with crime. Looking PennLive's page listing crime in the news, four of nine stories that were published on January 14th involved violent crime the majority involving robbery or theft. One article that made news across the mid-state is an article that appeared in the Patriot News, stating that Harrisburg made the list of the top 100 most dangerous cities throughout the United States. According to Neighborhood Scout, Harrisburg ranked number 30 on the list. Four other Pennsylvania cities also made the list: York at number 18 , Chester at number 19, Philadelphia at number 50 and Norristown at number 68. Compared to other states that surround Pennsylvania, New Jersey saw six of their cities on the list with Camden and Atlantic City in the top ten. Ohio found five of their cities on the list including Columbus and Cincinnati. New York made the list with four of their cities with one in the top ten and the other ranking at number 40 and above. Finally, Maryland only had two of their cities on the list with Baltimore placing only three steps below Harrisburg at number 27 and Salisbury at number 39.
Breaking down the report on Neighborhood Scout specific to Harrisburg, out of the 49,673 city residents there were 3,291 crimes last year with 2,584 of those property crimes and 707 violent crimes. Violent crimes are defined as murder, rape, robbery and assault while property crimes include burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft. The majority of the reported violent crimes are robbery and assault which combined add up to more than 600 of the more than 700 crimes while theft is the most commonly reported property crime much higher than burglary and motor vehicle theft put together. What this means for residents in the city is that they have a one in seventy chance of being a victim of violent crime. Even more terrifying is that when property crimes are considered that number dips down almost two-thirds to a one in nineteen chance of being a victim of burglary, theft or motor vehicle theft. When violent crimes and property crimes are combined, the likelihood of being a crime victim decreases to a one out of fifteen chance. In putting together data for this study, Neighborhood Scout took into consideration how Harrisburg compares to other cities of a similar population size. After adding in crime statistics that are reported to the FBI, Harrisburg tends to have more crime than other cities of a comparable population size, and within the state of Pennsylvania as a whole, 99% of the other cities have lower rates of crime.
Based on the 213 comments posted to the article about crime in Harrisburg, the community is concerned about this report and ponder ideas what can be done to reduce crime in Harrisburg. The responses range from blaming society especially political liberals, believing that disinterested parents who are raising a generation of disrespectful children to be the cause, thinking it crime is a problem because of the lack of spirit for volunteering for community clean up, espousing a one fits all solution by kicking everyone off of welfare, some want to encourage all citizens to pack a weapon at all times and others believe the problem is a problem that local police cannot control and want to institute martial law. By all accounts, people in the community are worried about Harrisburg and want to feel safe when they are out in the city. The Neighborhood Scout report dashes all preconceived notions that crime problems only happen in the big cities. After all, when a city of less than 50,000 residents places higher on the national crime report than two of the largest cities on the East Coast, Baltimore and Philadelphia, it makes local folks shiver even on a hot day.
What can actually be done to combat the crime problem? The police, the courts and the rest of the criminal justice system do their parts to enforce the laws and to lock away the people who are perpetrating the crimes, but they can only do so much. Like it or not, there are laws that protect the innocent until they are proven guilty. Even offenders of violent and property crimes are presumed innocent until convicted by a court of law. Contrary to what some people may think is a solution, public floggings and beating anyone accused of a crime, even if they are actually found later to be guilty is against the law. One former sheriff in Jefferson County, WV faces charges of violating the civil rights of a man accused of bank robbery. While the accused man was later found guilty, the sheriff faces up to ten years in prison for beating the suspect, a $250,000 fine and three years on parole. Committing crime to decrease other crimes is not going to solve the problem rather it simply causes a new problem with a different kind of criminal who think they are above the law justifying their actions with good intentions.
That being said, there are things that the community can do to protect themselves from being a victim of a violent crime or property crime. The National Crime Prevention Council advocates tips that adults can to to reduce the likelihood that they will be a crime victim. Another source discusses methods that people should use to protect themselves from crime on the city streets. One of the most common pieces of advice is to not put oneself into the position of becoming a victim due to their own carelessness or belief that crime will not happen in the community. Keep up protective defenses making sure not just to lock up the house before leaving and the car before going on the way. Park the car in well-lit areas. Have the car keys in hand ready to go before getting to the vehicle instead of fumbling inside a purse or pocket standing in front of the car. Do not be a target by going out for an early morning run or late evening walk when it is dark outside. Even when it is dusk, go out with a friend as criminals looking to commit robbery are looking for who they believe will be vulnerable all alone. Be aware of the surroundings after all if something seems strange or out of place, it is better to take extra time to be safe rather than be sorry later. Keep as little money on your person as possible being careful to keep what cash is on hand, credit cards and other valuables hidden and out of plain view. If you think that someone is following you, change directions or go into a well-lit store where they are plenty of people present. If you have been a victim of crime, report it immediately so that the police have all the information and can begin to look for the criminal immediately. Consider purchasing a personal alarm, a hand-held device that makes a very loud noise, or simply put a loud whistle around your neck when out and about especially alone and if attacked, use the whistle or alarm to draw attention. WebMD also provides a list of five ways to avoid danger: trust yourself; be aware of your surroundings; pay attention to people around you; act confident and focused; and understand that alcohol and drugs can cloud judgment. While these tips from the experts are not going to entirely eliminate the crime problem in the city, they can help one to protect themselves from standing out and making it easy for a criminal to find an easy target.
The crime problem is multi-faceted and there is no easy one-size-fits-all answer solution; however, there is an untapped resource within the Harrisburg community that could help to make it more challenging for criminals to commit robbery and theft. Community-run neighborhood watch programs have been successful in many places in keeping crime out. Since its inception in 1972, neighborhood watch groups have worked within their communities to keep their eyes and ears looking out for suspicious activity and to report crimes to police. Sponsored by the National Sheriff's Association, neighborhood watch groups have been effective because community members keep a watchful eye on the streets and reduce the opportunity for crime to occur. Citizens involved in this community watch group do not intervene or physically try to stop the criminal act rather their role is to sound the alarm and get police help on the way. While there are some citizens who are concerned about their community and want to take an active role in reducing crime by participating in neighborhood watch group, there are others who are afraid to become involved in fear of retaliation if it is discovered that there intervention led to an arrest. Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers is an organization that allows concerned citizens to help to solve crimes, remain anonymous and to also receive a payment from making the call. There are other concerned citizens in the community who may want a more active role in helping to decrease crime. Interestingly enough, Harrisburg has a crime watch organization, Camp Curtain Crime Watch.Sadly enough, it appears that this organization may no longer be in existence as the last meeting minutes to be posted were from February 23, 2011, there are no current events scheduled in the near or upcoming future and links to other pages about the crime watch program are defunct.
Revitalizing the Camp Curtain Crime Watch in Harrisburg may be just what the city needs to jump-start an initiative that empowers the community to take back the city away from the criminals letting them know that there is a community presence on the streets and that Harrisburg citizens are not going to sit back and be victims. Considering the organization is volunteer-led and groups such as this often operate with little to no funding, it would take a considerable effort to get it up off the ground again. Of course, if there is interest in wanting to see Harrisburg not to make the top 100 list, at least not for being a dangerous city, and to make people feel safe walking the streets at night, getting the community to take charge of their city is one way to help combat the crime problem.