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Reading mayor, police chief say plan in place to combat violence

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: May 21 2012 03:44:10 PM CDT
Updated On: May 21 2012 08:59:01 PM CDT

Reading's mayor has fired back after being blasted in a rare, front-page editorial.

READING, Pa. -

Reading's mayor has fired back after being blasted in a rare, front-page editorial.

Sunday's article in the Reading Eagle called on Mayor Vaughn Spencer and city leaders to step up following a recent rash of violence.

The headline read, "Mr. Mayor, community leaders: Take Charge." Hours after the paper was printed, another shooting happened in the city, and now residents said they're fed up.

"It's sad. Nobody wants to come out here because they think they're going to get shot," said Curetta Stewart, who lives in the city. "We all have children that walk these streets and they're all innocent bystanders."

The person shot Sunday evening in the area of Front and Greenwich streets was taken to the hospital and expected to recover. The victim's car was also damaged and found parked on the sidewalk, said police.

"It was scary. I actually heard the gunshots like at least five times," said Christine Kleman, who lives on Greenwich Street.

Last week, a 24-year-old man was found dead in Entertainment Square. According to police, there were 12 homicides in Reading last year. So far, eight have happened this year.

The front page spread called on the mayor to devise a plan to stop the ongoing violent crime.

"What people need to understand is we do have a plan, and we are constantly working to provide their safety," said Spencer.

The mayor and police chief said the problem is they don't have the numbers to fully staff their plan. The police department lost 75 officers in the past few years. The overlap shift, which made bar checks from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., has been cut, as well as the VIPER squad that focused on catching violent criminals.

"So my goal is to get people trained, get people acclimated and get them up to speed as quick as possible," said police Chief Bill Heim.

In the meantime, city leaders have now asked the public to step up and call police to prevent illegal activity.

"You need to help us. You're our eyes and ears. The police can't do it themselves," said Spencer.

Heim said this is a rebuilding year for the department, and the mayor wants to look for additional funding to put more officers on the street.