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Johnstown Crime Wave

Crime waves have their ebbs and flows.

Johnstown police department data on violent crimes from the FBI uniform crime reporting program between 1985 and the most recent year available, 2020, shows that up and down in the city.

When it comes to homicides, with six already reported in 2022, only two years in the FBI database show higher amounts, 2013 and 2017.

Local law enforcement agrees that more staff is needed to help the city be more proactive in crime-stopping, but the reality is it’s not easy to make that happen for reasons beyond the city’s control.

“Nobody wants to do this job anymore,” Detective Mark Britton of Johnstown Police said last week at a press conference announcing three homicides in the city in a four-day span. “When I took the (police) test almost 13 years ago there were about 140 some people who took the test in the city of Johnstown this last test we gave, we had five.”

It’s a trend that nationally has seen the number of sworn officers drop over the past decade, according to FBI data, straining departments like Johnstown’s.

“All the guys on patrol, they’re running call to call to call,” Britton said. “We’d love to be proactive in this town, but we’re reactive because there is always something going on.”

Johnstown police and Cambria County District Attorney Greg Neugebauer all agree collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies has helped, but there is also agreement detectives are overworked and at their limits.

“I want to caution council that these men are being taxed,” Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees said Wednesday. “These crimes scenes are very complex and time-consuming, and we only have one opportunity when we are processing and conducting these investigations to do it right.”

Johnstown Police Chief Richard Prichard said last week that with the current issues, police are working immediately on being more proactive.

“Council pledged their support for this initiative and agreed to the funding to sustain its operation,” Prichard said. “I’m so happy to have the support of council.”

City Manager Ethan Imhoff said it’s a priority in their long-term budget talks.

“Certainly, the chief’s initiatives and the police department’s initiatives will factor into those conversations, and we will be looking to find the financial resources to make sure the police department has the resources they need,”

In terms of getting more applicants, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been discussing efforts to get the state to fund more training opportunities for prospective officers, including at a meeting in Altoona last December.

“We’ve seen too many good people who could have a good career in law enforcement look the other away because they simply can’t afford the training necessary to go into law enforcement.,” Shapiro, who is also running for governor, said in December.

But all sides also stress that more cops on the streets is not the end all be all. Community support for preventing crime and reporting crime when it happens is key as well.

“If you had 100 police officers out there, some of these still wouldn’t make a difference,” Mayor Frank Janakovic, D-Johnstown, said last week. “Police can’t be everywhere but they’re doing their best out there but we also need our citizen’s support.”

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