STEUBENVILLE - If given the tools and the manpower, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said law enforcement can reclaim Steubenville from the 150 or so gang members wreaking havoc there.
Six murders happened in the city last year, with gang violence on a dangerous rise. Abdalla told attendees of Wednesday's Hilltop Community Development Corp. meeting that he and city Police Chief Bill McCafferty know how to deal with the gang problem, but need others to assist in making it happen.
"The problem with the gangs are the women who are bringing gangbangers 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 ... take back this city," he said.
Solving gang problem must be joint effort
Abdalla called on the black community to "come forward" and assist with the gang problem.
"All six murders in the city last year were black children killed by black children. And no one does a ... thing. The black community has to come forward. And the gangbangers quit going to church a long time ago. I am calling on the ministers to take the pulpit to the street," he said. "... You need more police officers on the hilltop and increase the security cameras around (Piece of Pie) park. You have to find the money to do that and take the cuffs off law enforcement."
About 150 people showed up for Wednesday's meeting, which Hilltop Development president Laura Sirilla sees as a good start. The organization represents residents living in the LaBelle and Pleasant Heights neighborhoods.
Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin agreed with Sirilla's assessment.
"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," Hanlin said.
"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," added 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.
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.
Police consultant Jim Mavromatis told 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," he said.
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," Johnson said.