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Poll: Crime 'most important problem' facing Harrisburg - abc27 WHTM

Poll: Crime 'most important problem' facing Harrisburg

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Crime is the most important problem facing Harrisburg, according to a recent poll. Mayoral candidates discussed how they plan to tackle crime in the city.

More than taxes, trash, or even the economy, voters said crime, drugs and violence ranked higher in importance.

On Monday, results from an abc27/Susquehanna Polling & Research poll were released; 300 registered Democratic voters were asked an open-ended question without choices. "What is the single most important problem facing Harrisburg today?"

Grabbing 37 percent, the majority of voters said "Crime/Drugs/Violence." In second with 22 percent, voters said "Government Spending/Budget."

abc27 reached out to each prominent candidate now running to become Mayor of Harrisburg. With one week until the polls open in the May primary election, each candidate spoke on-camera about their plan to tackle crime.

Eric Papenfuse, who is currently tied with Dan Miller at 30 percent according to the poll, said he believed crime was always the top issue.

"If you don't feel safe, it dramatically affects quality of life," said Papenfuse. "That was not a surprise to us to find that in your poll."

Before he announced his candidacy for mayor, Papenfuse organized a movement to for the Midtown neighborhood to pay a monthly fee for more foot patrols to increase security.

Mayoral candidate Dan Miller also said he was not surprised to see crime at the forefront. However the City Controller maintains Harrisburg's finances remain key to easing other issues facing the city.

Miller said he could relate because he was once a victim of crime. He said three men jumped him near his office one evening after an event.

"All I could think of is, do these guys have guns?" said Miller.

He said that experience changed his perspective on crime. Miller said he understands victims of violence feel violated and their peace of mind is also stolen. That is why he would focus on illegal guns in the city.

"I'd like to have a unit that concentrates just on getting guns off the street," Miller said.

But when we interviewed Mayor Linda Thompson, she justly pointed out the "Mayor Thompson's Illegal Gun Program" has been in effect for more than a year. Thompson said police have recovered 194 illegal guns in her administration.

However abc27 records in previous stories showed only a handful of those guns were recovered under her illegal gun program. Since Thompson began her "Neighborhood Safety Zone" program earlier this spring, police recovered 16 guns thus far in three phases of the NSZ.

Perhaps the number of homicides and burglaries continue to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. Thus far in 2013, there have been eight reported homicides in Harrisburg. There were 12 homicides last year, and 16 in 2011.

Mayor Thompson said she would never be able to eliminate crime altogether because crime is a "national" and "global" issue.

"This mayor has been tough on crime every opportunity I have to bring forth a new initiative," said Thompson.

Thompson said her NSZ program needs time to progress. Going into her next term Mayor Thompson said criminals wouldn't be given a chance to keep up.

"Those neighborhood safe zones are to do just that. They keep [criminals] on the run and ultimately out of our city," she said.

Mayor Thompson said it is not her fault 40 police officers have left the department since she took office. She said officers made choices based on retirement, pensions, and their personal families and the uncertainty of the city's finances scared them away.

Thompson said she is on track to hire as many officers as she can.

"Going into the next administration, this is what it looks like...cops, cops, cops on the street walking the beat," she said.

Thompson also said she will continue to do her weekly rounds and walk the beat with the cops to show leadership among the public.

Papenfuse also vowed he would involve the public more if elected mayor.

"You'll see me in the aftermath in major crime incidents engaging the community, trying to put a face on both the victims and the perpetrators of crime and start a community discussion," he said.

Papenfuse proposed a "two-pronged approach" to tackling crime. He said he would develop "proactive" and "reactive" measures as mayor.

His proactive ideas include expanding youth programs to properly educate children at a young age and give them opportunities other than a life in crime explained Papenfuse.

The Midtown Scholar owner said he would also expand small business and job opportunities for city residents.

Perhaps Papenfuse's most talked-about crime initiative would be his idea to become a "crime commissioner." He explained the role of crime commissioner or "czar" would act as a liaison between the media and public when crime occurs.

Papenfuse said the job would free up the responsibilities of the Chief of Police so that person could focus on policing.

"[Allow the police chief to] manage the police force and manage the day-to-day policing of the city."

Dan Miller said most crime issues are tied into economic and financial problems. Miller said his decades of experience in finance would be able to steer Harrisburg away from its current broken credit status and make the city more attractive to borrowers once again.

Miller said there are Department of Justice and other federal grants up for grabs, but Harrisburg misses out because of the financial instability.

"The consequences [are], well we can't get the grant now," said Miller. "These are types of things where management really counts."

Miller said his philosophy to fix crime is to reassure the finances. He said that would not happen under a Thompson or Papenfuse administration. Miller said both believe a state-appointed receivership is the best way to fix finances. He said according the abc27 poll 74 percent believe the city is on the wrong track.

Next Tuesday, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters are reminded you may be asked to show identification, but it is NOT required.

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