Sunday, January 31, 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Nothing new there.
Police Chief Jimmy Hughes said the area around the church will see increased patrols, which is good. The perpetrator of this crime hasn't been caught so it makes sense to saturate the area and make life hard on him. The residents of the area also need to see a police presence to know the city is doing something to address crime in their area.
However, Mayor William's comments failed to convey a sense of urgency regarding this situation. His statements were limited to this latest murder but did not address the uptick in homicides the city has seen this year. I think the public needed to hear that his administration is taking the situation seriously, recognizes they have a serious problem and are formulating a plan to address it. The number of homicides has dropped for three years running. City residents need to hear what the Williams administration is going to do to maintain that pace.
“Can you absolutely stop it with increased patrols and citizen
involvement? The answer is probably no. This happens in our country.
Unfortunately, it happens too many times in Youngstown, Ohio,” he [Mayor
What the mayor said above is true but it needs to be followed up with a statement outlining a plan of action. Tell us a special committee is being put together to prepare a plan. Give us a sense of what that plan might contain, such as help from the county sheriff and the state patrol. Will we see the return of saturation patrols? Will the city sponsor block watch groups and coordinate with them? How will the new Shot Spotter system be implemented and how will the data collected be used?
We all want the city to grow and succeed but in order for that to happen we need to see activity that produces real results. This is the test that faces Mayor Williams and so far he is stumbling.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I don't expect a dramatic speech about crime or a thunderous damnation of the person who committed this latest act but I do wonder why Mayor Williams, the elected leader of Youngstown, is silent on five homicides in the first 23 days of this year. He was chosen by the voters of Youngstown to be a leader and right now, when the city could use a father figure, he remains utterly quiet.
The city is enjoying a renaissance downtown. The incubator is doing well, the Covelli Centre is turning a profit booking some decent shows and restaurants are seeing an uptick in business compared to years past. However, that sort of growth can come to a screeching halt if violent crime is allowed to flourish. And let me tell you, 80 year old women gunned down outside of church on a Saturday morning is exactly the kind of news that will make people avoid the city.
My suggestion to the mayor is to stand up and tell people what they need to hear, to treat them like adults. The only people who can change Youngstown are the people who live in Youngstown. If they want to be safe they have to talk to the police. They have to take responsibility for their kids. They have to break the cycle of violence by making sure their kids are in school, succeeding and acting like civil human beings. Mayor Williams needs to hold up a mirror and say that Youngstown is the way it is because people act like thugs and tear down every good thing.
Youngstown has to decide if Youngstown wants to succeed.
Monday, January 11, 2010
How can you tell a retired public employee from a private sector retiree?
The man laughing all the way to the bank is from the ranks of the bloodsuckers.
The man working as a greeter in one of those large box stores had his blood
sucked — by those in government and other public entities.
I'm going to come clean before I wade into the fray. I have friends and relatives who are public employees, working in the criminal justice system and education. I know they work hard, dealing with violent criminals every day, coming home with bruises and stress because fighting is part of their job. They go when called and afterward deal with the offenders when they are locked up. Incidentally, Bertram knows these people are important. In a column from May 2006 he described the feelings of one of his colleagues as his car was swarmed on the North Side:
You sit there, your hands firmly gripping the steering wheel, your eyes
wandering so as not to look directly at them. There is a deep sense of
hopelessness, which, as time passes, is replaced by an anger so intense that
it prompts all kinds of counterattack scenarios. But in reality, there's not
much you can do when they're swarming.
That feeling of hopelessness dissolves when a cruiser pulls up and a cop steps out. That feeling of fear can be safely forgotten when criminals are held away from us, in detention centers and jails, where correction officers deal with them daily, so we don't have to.
And so it goes. We call 911 and fire fighters and police respond as fast as they can, running toward the fire and the danger, and later, they contain the dangerous people so we can feel safe. they clean the streets, fix the broken water mains and teach our children. And they do it all a damn sight cheaper than we would.
The people I know in public service? To a one they hold 4 year degrees in their fields. The teachers hold master's degrees. That means we are being served by educated individuals who planned on entering public service as a career path. Their plan was to protect us and teach our children. They could have entered the private sector, like me, and made more money. They could all be living wealthier lives instead of taking side jobs to grab a few extra dollars.
So yes, they have good medical benefits and a decent pension but they aren't making nearly the same money they would in the private sector.
de Souza needs to compare apples to apples in his argument. If he wants to move their pensions to Social Security they should all be paid what college graduates of their experience are being paid. Can local communities afford that? No, they can't. Public employees forgo larger salaries for the promise of a stable retirement and good medical benefits. That's the deal we make with them.
Yes, changes should be made. The public employees I've spoken with say changes that extend the retirement age should be made and double dipping should be eliminated. And they didn't compare anyone to a leech while saying it.
What Bertram should really be upset about is that our government has trashed our employment opportunities so thoroughly that public employment has become the new gold standard.
Man up, Bertram. You owe an apology.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
I clambered to the seat as the sleek black car rocketed away from the curb. I could see I wouldn't be getting out until the car's other occupant finished having his say. He was older than me but still spry despite his girth and age. I recognized him at once.
"I know you," I said. "You own the-"
"Yeah, yeah, everybody knows me," he said. "That isn't important now. Just think of me as a senior executive in the back of a car. Capish?"
"I have a problem you can help me with," he said.
"I seriously doubt that. You may have the wrong guy."
"You're on the Friends of the Library committee, right?"
I nodded again.
"Then you're the guy," he said. "I think we can help each other out."
"I don't think I need any help."
"Really?" He tossed a manila envelope into my lap from across the car. "There's $26 in there. The same amount as what you owe Donna D. for spotting you at bingo last Thursday."
"You're paying off bingo debt? Why?"
"That's the kind of help I give people who do me favors."
"You need me to do you a favor? At the library?"
He leaned across the seat. His breath smelled of scotch and baseball stadium hot dogs. "There is an issue with some overdue books that I would like to see taken care of."
"You want your overdue fines waived?"
"Well, I can't imagine overdue book fines being more than the money in this envelope."
His face screwed up in frustration. "The amount isn't the point. The point is that I am an influential man in this community. I can't be seen as someone who flagrantly checks out books and then fails to return them."
"So you're bribing me?"
"That's an interest free loan with no repayment schedule. You understand?"
"I really don't."
"Make the overdue fines go away and pay back that sweet little old lady who paid for your bingo cards."
"Have you returned the books?"
He opened up a shoulder bag laying on the floor at his feet. One beefy paw went in a rooted around, finally emerging with two books. He held them out to me.
I accepted them and looked at the titles. " 'Commercial Real Estate for Dummies'. 'What to Expect in Prison'. "
"I have varied interests." He lowered the privacy screen. "John, take this guy back to his car. We're all done."
The limo swung around and glided back to curb where I'd gotten in. "One more thing," he said, as I exited the car. "You're in the deep end now. You get hung up returning those books or erasing the fines and you're on your own. I don't ever want to hear my name associated with this."
"Um, yeah, sure. You'll never be anything more than the senior executive in the back of the car."
He leaned close again. "You mean the unknown senior executive in the back of the car. Right?"
"Right. Got it."
The limo sped away, merging effortlessly back into traffic.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
You see, before Christmas the temperatures may dip a bit but you have parties and family arguments to look forward to. People hand out liquor and cookies like they've hoarded them all year and are finally free to dole out in unending quantities. After the wrapping paper has gone to the curb and the New Year's kisses have faded there's just the unending freezing of January and February until the uncertainty of March and April. Nothing to look forward to. Just cold weather that makes every little thing harder. Going outside? Bundle up. Going somewhere? Make sure you have at least a half tank of gas and jumper cables. Are the kids going with you? Forget about leaving in the next twenty minutes or so. It will take them that long just to suit up.
But now, it's break time. Not smoke break time, no, not anymore. I'm still adhereing to the resolution I made at New Years to stop treating my body like a brownfield site. More salads, less nicotine. No more familiar light headedness as I take the first drag after the lighter touches the tip of a Marlboro. No, now it's just five minutes in the cold, away from the sound of the ringing phones in the call center.
He announces his presence with a whipcrack fart. The Homunculus of Winter.
I don't know how he does it but he can sidle right up to you without a sound. Ops manager to a third rate call center touting cable package upgrades, by his attitude you'd think he was vice-president of a bailed out Wall St. firm. His suit comes from Jos. A Bank. He stocks up during their buy one, get two free Christmas sale. Today he's sporting a dark blue jacket over a canary yellow sweater vest and plaid button up shirt. He's too cheery for the dismal day. I resent him at once.
"Your numbers aren't looking too good," he says. Ignoring social conventions like greetings is something he excels at. He likes to put people off their guard by beginning conversations in the middle, forcing you to engage him by asking what the hell he's talking about.
"My group is doing well," I counter, engaging him but without asking him what he means. I let him come to me. The four people working under me have each sold an upgraded service tonight.
"New year, new requirements. Didn't you read my email? The new minimum is two premium upgrades per shift."
I finally look down at him. The top of his head rises to just under my chest. My wife calls his attitude 'short man syndrome'. I love her for it.
"We've got two hours left. We'll make it," I say. "And yes, I saw your email."
I watch in fascination as he extracts a Marlboro from a red topped hardpack. He pops it into his mouth and lights up. The smell of it washes over me and I hate him even more. He tilts the pack toward me.
"Need a smoke?"
I shake my head. He knows I quit. He just wants to enjoy my torment. He knows I want one and I know he'll take pleasure in watching me turn it down or watching my will break if I accept.
"Come on," he says, giving the pack a shake. "It's okay."
I shake my head again. "If my people start to fall behind, I'd appreciate some warning. To work with them."
"Don't fall behind," he says. The tip of the cig glows orange in the dim light as he inhales.
It's so easy for him. He draws on the whole center for his metrics. As long as we make the minimum to keep his boss happy he glides along without a care in the world. He just has to ride me and the other eight section managers, make sure our people are selling upgrades to HBO even as we're trying to explain why the customer has to haul their busted cable box down to our office for a replacement. We don't let the repair guys drive around with them anymore. Too many came up "missing".
"I'm just saying, I don't need people vanishing out of my pod. It's too hard to get the replacements trained." He won't care. It's the section managers who have to train the newbies, the one's who pass the pee test, don't have anything too rough in their criminal background check and can pass the literacy test well enough to read the script.
"You saying your job's too hard?" He always twists what you say, taking your meaning and circling around so you find your own words biting your ass. It's how he got to the second floor. It's how he keeps that office with a door that closes.
"No, of course not," I say. "It just makes things more difficult." My toes are going numb inside my imitation Oxfords.
"Hey, I'm only messing with you. Quit being such a damn grouch," he says. "I'm just trying to pep you up a little. Your group keeps me looking good. I know who should get the credit for that."
Another trick. He kicks you a little bit and then tries to make friends with you. He probably got this one from one of those managerial conferences he's always going to. You know the kind, four hours in a Holiday Inn conference room out by the interstate. A free breakfast buffet just for attending. You should see what he can do to a plate of waffles and scambled eggs. His dietary habits are directly related to his incessant flatuence.
"Sorry. It's just the cold working on me." I hate that I feel like I have to apologize.
He drags down the last of his cig and flips the butt into the storm drain between the sidewalk we're standing on and the parking lot. Not for the first time I wonder if his diminuitive frame could be forced in there. I'm pretty sure I could lift the grate but that pipe may or may not be wide enough to get him moving away from the building. I've given it some thought but I'm still not certain.
"Don't worry about it. The pressure of this job can get to you. I still remember, you know what I mean?" His hands are in his pockets and he nudges me in the hip with a tiny shoulder. This is something else he likes to do. Pretend he's one of the guys on the floor because he worked the phones for seven months a hundred years ago. "You ready to get back to it?"
"Yeah", I say, steeling myself for the final three hours. "Let's get back to it." I follow him through the door, wiping my feet carefully so I don't slip as I walk down the steel stairs. He heads up the other stair case, toward the second floor and the office with a door.
Friday, January 01, 2010
In the Youngstown Vindicator article covering this topic yesterday, Police Chief Jimmy Hughes credits young males stepping away from such activity, police suppression efforts and community involvement, such as block watch groups. Of those three reasons, my money would be on community involvement. It's a running joke that "nobody sees nothing" but murders are being cleared and the jail is full of people who committed other crimes. People must be talking to police and that's a good thing.
The number of murders also dropped because there were no large multiple murders in 2009 like those that occurred in 2007 when four people were found shot to death on the south side and in 2008 when six members of the Crawford family were killed in an arson fire.
The reduction in homicides doesn't tell the whole story, though. Also reduced were theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. Good news for sure. However, the following crimes increased: rape, robbery, felonious assault and burglary. What concerns me is that murder is usually a crime carried out between people who know one another (domestic violence) or who have criminal dealings (drug related). The odds of visiting the city and being murdered by a stranger are extremely small. Other crimes though, like robbery, are more oriented to stranger on stranger. Burglary and rape can make it hard to stay in a neighborhood once you've been victimized. These are the kinds of crimes that impact quality of life and drive people away, something Youngstown certainly doesn't need right now as the downtown renaissance takes hold. Thankfully, the community and city are stepping up.
Block watch groups can have a tremendous impact on crimes like burglary, robbery and rape. The eyes of those in a neighborhood are a tremendous asset to police. The residents who live in an area know who the troublemakers are and who doesn't belong. The police should work hard to foster relationships with those groups. It's not easy to speak with police but my dad never had a problem picking up the phone when he lived on the south side. He didn't want anyone thinking they could steal from us or ruin the neighborhood without the law being called.
The city is also investing in a Shot Spotter system that will pinpoint where shots are fired. It will be interesting to see how this system is utilized. Will YPD be able to respond quickly enough? Will data collected through the system and other sources be properly analyzed and used to prevent crime?
Things are moving in the right direction for Youngstown in 2010. Hopefully the drive to succeed and improve the city will continue.