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Gangsters gone from Reading, but crime remains, officials say

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 19 2013 02:32:04 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 19 2013 05:23:47 PM CST

Only a few decades ago, an explosion of corruption was felt in Reading.

READING, Pa. -

Only a few decades ago, an explosion of corruption was felt in Reading.

Illegal gambling, prostitution and elected officials on the wrong side of the law. It was organized crime as never seen before.

Today, it's a different kind of city. The old gangsters may be gone, but crime is still running rampant.

"Crime tends to be more violent these days. There's more homicides, more serious assaults and more robberies," said Chief Bill Heim, Reading Police Dept.

Between 1966 and 2011, the number of crimes went up by more than 50 percent in the city. Fifteen homicides were reported in 2012 alone.

"Today, with the drug trafficking and meth and all these synthetic drugs, that has a lot to do with the crime," said Mayor Vaughn Spencer, D-Reading.

According to Heim, it's more dangerous to be a cop now. The demand for services has increased, but the number of officers on the force has decreased. These days, the focus has shifted from the gangsters to the gangs.

"There's criminal organizations certainly, mostly concerned with the drug trade," said Heim.

Spencer is now in his second year as mayor. He grew up in the city during the 50s and 60s when historians say corruption was rampant among city leaders.

"You could be a chief of police under one mayor and another mayor comes in and you were back possibly being a patrolman again," said Spencer.

According to Spencer, that is not the case today, and there are now checks and balances in place.

"I can nominate a managing director or department director, but council has to approve them," said Spencer.

Reading has endured its share of bad publicity. From the documentary, "The Corrupt City," to the poorest city and now a crime-ridden city.

"We need to have participation from the community," said Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Pa., during a crime summit in January.

Constant crime scene tape and gun violence sparked the summit at the Crown Plaza in Wyomissing. Local, state and federal leaders are now looking to solve the city's problems.

"I look forward to some follow up so maybe we can institute some new programs and obtain some new investigative tools," said Berks County District Attorney John Adams.

Reading is a changed city. Some would say not for the better, but it's a work in progress. the big question is, can Reading get on the right path to a better tomorrow?