Casey, Longietti all in - Crime gets federal and state attention

By:  Tom Davidson

SHENANGO VALLEY — It’s been a month since William Basilone Jr. was gunned down outside his popular Farrell bar.

Basilone’s killing Dec. 30 was the worst of what U.S. Sen. Bob Casey termed a “dangerous spike in violent crime” in the Shenango Valley.

Casey, D-Pa., Friday sent a letter to assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson about the crime wave.

“I urge you to ensure that funding is made available as quickly as possible to assist local law enforcement in small cities like Sharon and Farrell,” Casey wrote.

Casey’s letter comes after a meeting of community leaders held last Monday planted what Farrell Mayor Olive McKeithan said are the seeds for positive change.

“I’m just following the people,” Mrs. McKeithan said. “The community needs to come together.

“I think we have a lot of good ideas, but I think we’ve got to have some more,” she said. “I want the community to buy into it and try to organize this.”

Another meeting is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Farrell City Building, and the mayor said after that meeting a community task force will be formed to move forward.

More active neighborhood watch programs will be organized along with plans to “clean up our community,” Mrs. McKeithan said.

Those efforts will supplement the work that will be done by a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies created by Sharon Police Chief Mike Menster and Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Chief Riley Smoot Jr. in response to the crime wave.

Casey’s letter reiterated what the chiefs said at last week’s meeting.

“We will do what we can to rebuild the quality of life in our valley,” Smoot said then.

State Rep. Mark Longietti, Hermitage, D-7th District, said he’s also committed to helping to bring state resources to the valley to fight the problem.

Last year, he introduced a bill that would give prosecutors the right to go after the assets of organized gangs whose members are convicted of violent crimes and take those assets to help pay for law enforcement and other programs to reduce crime.

The bill failed to gain traction last year.

“I’m frustrated it hasn’t gotten beyond the ‘intro’ phase,” Longietti said Sunday. “It would benefit the entire commonwealth.”

He also decried the state’s latest budget, which cut state-funded Weed-and-Seed programs that had helped to reduce crime in the Shenango Valley.

“I just think it’s short-sighted to eliminate these programs that work,” Longietti said.

He’s working to ensure the Shenango Valley’s problems get on the state and national law enforcement “radar screen,” he said.

“We’re fighting for resources on our end,” he said.