The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

March 15, 2013

Violence-Plagued Urban Neighborhood Feels Ignored in Gun Debate

(Continued)

Although Foster-El's death represented a low point for the community, it also spurred action. Through a federal program called Hope VI, East Capitol Dwellings, which was once the city's largest housing complex, was demolished. It was replaced with Capitol Gateway, a tidy community of cookie-cutter $300,000 townhouses and single-family houses.

"It is much more quiet," said Hamilton, who led the board of the area's community development corporation for 27 years. "They just made a complete sweep. The drug dealers used to hang out right here, and now you don't see them."

Hamilton credits the lower slaying rate in Capitol View's police district to redevelopment. (In the city as a whole, homicides dropped from 472 in 1990 to 242 in 2000 — and down to 88 last year.) Along with the new housing, the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization tackled some of the social problems in Ward 7, holding high school-diploma-equivalency and literacy courses and buying a strip mall to encourage business growth.

The police department has also tried new tactics, Contee said. After five men were gunned down in broad daylight in 2009, the department focused intensely on Clay Terrace, a housing complex in the Capitol View area. Two summers ago, the gun-recovery unit targeted illegal weapons. Plainclothes officers kept track of residents with known criminal histories. But they also took aim at blight, noting broken lights, the lack of hoops on the basketball court and weeds on the playground. Government agencies then fixed the problems. Crime, including gun deaths, dropped in half during the three months of intense policing, a tack replicated each summer, he said.

Officers also have built more trust than they had during the time of Foster-El's death. Contee receives anonymous text messages from residents when they hear gunfire or suspect a crime.

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