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Drug, gun violence connection often overlooked - abc27 WHTM

Drug, gun violence connection often overlooked

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

When bullets fly in Harrisburg good chance it's ‘drug-related' according to vice agents. While gun control has dominated headlines, there is a deeper issue in the city that gets overlooked – drugs.

‘Shots fired' reports have become almost a daily occurrence in Harrisburg. Most police reported shootings come with a "suspicious" narrative. While law proves you are innocent until proven guilty, thus why most police reports does not or cannot tell the true story.

Vice agents tell abc27 heroine has made resurgence around Harrisburg. Previous reports aired first-hand accounts with Harrisburg Police Department's Captain Annette Oates when asked about the city's drug problem responded, "It's fairly large. We have a large drug issue."

Another report after several drug overdoses had Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick telling abc27 drugs are a "widespread problem…heroine use is throughout this county."

Hetrick also reported an increase of drug overdoses in 2012 and an average age of 41 years-old with all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Authorities and prosecutors explained Harrisburg has become a hub for heroine trafficking for two reasons -- location and population. With main arteries Interstate 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there is easy access to larger cities Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, Washington D.C., and even Pittsburgh.

Not just within city limits, yet the Capitol region is heavily populated. The dense population gives drug dealers better chances to hide with a fairly large customer market. While this issue is not isolated to Harrisburg alone, drug operations continue to give an almost wild west perception. Investigators and undercover agents most of the gunplay within the city stems from rival drug dealers and operations or "turf battles".

Mayor Linda Thompson acknowledged there is not enough focus on drug-related crime in the city. Then again, Thompson believes there's even a deeper issue – poverty. The mayor said she's seen a number of city kids without proper education dropout and chose a life entwined in drugs.

Thompson points to a systematic problem that hits sensitive issues of culture, race, socioeconomic background, and our current education system. The mayor maintains the issue of gun control is complex and in her eyes the root cause boils down to impoverished neighborhoods.

"Listen, we [must be] committed to going into these divested neighborhoods and getting kids into meaningful job opportunities and ultimately good job placements…if not then we'll continue to lose this war to crime," said Thompson.

Thompson said she couldn't rely on legislation alone to tackle this issue. The mayor said she is working on several initiatives that would focus on apprenticeships with local trade business as well as job placement programs for inner-city youth.

Thompson also pointed to the addition of eight Harrisburg Police officers this quarter and another eight by fall 2013. As soon as the $25,000 grant is secured from the county, Thompson said the installation of safety cameras hope to aid investigators and deter drug and gun violence.

Obviously, the ‘war on drugs' is a national epidemic and has been for decades. With social media and new technology, vice agents are finding new ways to track drug dealers. Prosecutors in Dauphin County said penalties for drug-related and gun-relation crimes are becoming harsher.

As law and order continues to strengthen – so do arms and drug dealers.

First Assistant District Attorney with Dauphin County Fran Chardo said like any organized crime it is a game of cat-and-mouse.

"They adapt, we adapt," said Chardo. "We've gotta stay up to date and as techniques and technology changes -- we have to keep up to date too."

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