Operation Gang Up

Warning Signs

Sunbury targeted for gang program

April 7, 2012

By Francis Scarcella

SUNBURY — Sunbury doesn’t have a gang problem, Mayor David Persing says, but a congressman, FBI expert and county gang awareness leader say otherwise.

“Even though there are no driveby shootings going on in the city, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem,” said Noel Jones, Northumberland County’s gang awareness task force agent. “Sunbury is a hub for gangs.”

Jones fully supports Operation Gang Up, launched last year by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, to assuage constituents who complained of watching thug activity unfold on their streets.

A March 15 beating of a teenage girl in Barletta’s hometown of Hazleton left him shocked.

“The first step is admitting,” he said. “I had no idea this was going on and I was like everyone else and never wanted to admit the gangs are out there and on our streets.”

The 13-year-old was leaving a Hazleton school when she was abducted and beaten at a nearby playground. Police have charged three juveniles in what investigators call a gang-related assault.

“Something has to be done about this,” Barletta said. “I am fully committed to doing everything I can to help educate community leaders on the steps that need to be taken to get our streets back.”

Watching, being watched

Gangs aren’t just in Sunbury, but they are present throughout Northumberland County, Sunbury police Chief Steve Mazzeo said.

In 2009, Steven M. Rodriguez was shot dead in his apartment after police say he stole marijuana from one of the three men accused of killing him, and Mazzeo said evidence showed the incident was gang-related.

Mazzeo also said a December stabbing of a woman nine months pregnant and a Sunbury home owner was committed by a suspected Latin King who has been in and out of the area regularly.

“The more eyes on gangs the better,” Mazzeo said. “There are up to a dozen gangs in the Valley and as long as we can make people aware of what is going on the better it is.”

Citizen education

Barletta, Jones and Yudichak are touring the 10th and 11th congressional districts to educate schools, community leaders, children and parents.

Barletta said the more people that get involved with Operation Gang up, the better.

“We need all the eyes we can get,” he said.

“Police alone can not stop gangs, but if we become educated on what to look for and how to stop the process, we can but a huge dent in what’s going on.”

Barletta wants to visit Sunbury and meet with the community.

“We would love to come and speak with everyone,” Barletta said.

“This is a serious situation and we need to get a hand on it right now. Our message to gang members is simple. Not in our neighborhood. Not with our kids.”



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