STEUBENVILLE - Laura Sirilla called the two-hour Hilltop Community Development Corp. meeting Wednesday night a starting point.
The president of the organization that represents residents living in the LaBelle and Pleasant Heights neighborhoods said the number of people who attended the monthly meeting was "very encouraging, and I hope we move forward from this point."
More than 150 area residents filled the Trinity Medical Center East board room and an adjacent hallway to listen as Steubenville and Jefferson County officials talked about gangs, drugs and violent crime in the city and pleaded for more cooperation with law enforcement.
"I know we have about 150 gang members in the city and we need help. Some of these gang members are only 14 years old and I don't know how to help these kids to stay away from gangs," Police Chief Bill McCafferty told the residents.
"The problem with the gangs are the women who are bringing gang bangers into their homes for a few dollars so these guys can sell their drugs. How do you fight that crime? Continued meetings aren't going to get it. Give the tools to Chief McCafferty. Give us the tools and we will kick some ass and take back this city," declared Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.
"The park the city shut down isn't the problem. Two gang bangers were shooting that night in the Piece of Pie Park. But it took that night for everyone to stand up and say we will do something about this. But we don't need all of these meetings. Common sense tells you to call if you see a crime or something suspicious," Abdalla told the audience.
It was a lesson in crime fighting for a community frustrated with the recent drive-by shooting that left two juveniles wounded last month.
"All six murders in the city last year were black children killed by black children. And no one does a damn thing. The black community has to come forward. And the gang bangers quit going to church a long time ago. I am calling on the ministers to take the pulpit to the street. The park should be cleaned up. Put more lighting in and open that park again. You need more police officers on the hilltop and increase the security cameras around the park. You have to find the money to do that and take the cuffs off law enforcement," urged Abdalla.
"I plan to write a letter to the City Council safety committee regarding the one-way streets and the speed limits on the LaBelle neighborhood. We are just waiting for a kid to be hurt or killed by a speeder," Abdalla added.
Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said she was encouraged to see so many people at the meeting.
"We need your help. It is so important for you to come to us and tell us what you know when a crime occurs. We now have open warfare because we all know when someone is shot there will be retaliation. We are going to lose a 3-year-old, we are going to lose a baby or we are going to lose a toddler. Please don't let that happen. It is crucial for us to have your help. If you have information about these shootings, come see us. Let us do our jobs and let us help you," stated Hanlin.
"We love our town but we have these people coming here from everywhere. I am tired of the shootings especially the black-on-black crime. Let us come together as one and do something about this. Steubenville knows how to come together and do it right," said city resident Delores Wiggins.
City Manager Tim Boland discussed the city's strategy for stopping violent crimes, including working with the city schools, adding to the police department staffing and modified foot patrols in the "hot areas of the neighborhoods."
Boland called for a review of the city's current street light locations to assess the need for and the potential cost of additional street lighting in the neighborhoods.
"Crime Tip Hotline signage will be strategically placed in the hilltop neighborhoods and we are in the process of removing crime signs at the gateways to the city and locate them in the high crime area," continued Boland.
He also called for a hilltop community task force of community and city leaders to meet on a monthly basis and said the city should take the regional leadership role in an association of Ohio Valley community police departments as well as continue coordination with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
And police consultant Jim Mavromatis told the residents to contact the Jefferson County commissioners to lobby for more funding for the Jefferson County jail. "Get the county commissioners to open up the 60 empty jail cells at the Justice Center so we can put people in jail. That's how you impact these drug dealers. Take them off the streets for 60 to 90 days."
Second Ward Councilman Mike Johnson called for "a strong partnership between the citizens and the police."
"The city should create a committee of citizens, administration and police to get the citizens into the mix. The city, as far as I know, has no goals for the police department. The police department needs to get goals and then measure their work. The police should take responsibility for the neighborhoods they patrol," said Johnson.
"We work for you. You are not helpless. We need a modified walking patrol where the police get to know the residents in the neighborhoods. This town has to be taken back," remarked 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna.
And 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto told the audience, "I wish all of you came to council meetings and would get out and do something for the city. The police can't do it all. We have to stick together."
The residents also heard from Beth Rupert-Warren, executive director of the United Way of Jefferson County, who reported a countywide crime watch program is now being formed.
And one resident who questioned why a police officer didn't stop a suspicious car parked on a hilltop street received a quick lesson in police tactics from Sgt. Joe Lamantia of the sheriff's department.
"I was the backup for the police officer and what you didn't see was the officer and then I pulled around the corner and waited for the vehicle to move. We followed the car to McDonald's and then to state Route 7 waiting for him to do something so we could stop him. Unfortunately he didn't and drove south on state Route 7. We may not always just stop a vehicle because we are looking for probable cause to make the stop," explained Lamantia.