Approximately two months after a federal report detailing the growth of gangs in the area was released, a pair of events focusing on gang awareness will be held locally.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke, will sponsor a Gang Awareness and Action Panel Discussion at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Room K-1 of the Kostos Building at Penn State Hazleton on University Drive in Sugarloaf Township.
Sen. John Yudicak
The free event is open to the public and will feature a number of gang experts and law enforcement officials. Attendees will hear suggestions on what steps they can take in their community to help law enforcement reduce gang activity.
"As a former mayor, I've seen firsthand the problems that gangs cause here in Northeastern Pennsylvania," Barletta said in a press release. "One of the best weapons we have in the fight against the spread of gangs is education. I'm pleased to bring federal resources to the table and to sponsor this gang awareness event with state Senator Yudichak because our constituents need to know how to protect themselves as gangs try to extend their influence, recruit more of our children, and destroy our way of life."
In April, the U.S. Department of Justice released the results of a study that found Dominican gangs are strengthening and centralizing drug operations in Hazleton. The 2011 Eastern Pennsylvania Drug and Gang Threat Assessment also called the city a "strategic location" for gangs and drug trafficking organizations because of convenient access to drugs from the New York area and a wide distribution market in neighboring communities.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta
The study also pointed to other areas in Northeastern Pennsylvania with gang problems.
"Our purpose is to better inform law enforcement, school officials and members of the public to further the discussion and come up with a plan on how we can effectively combat this growing threat to all of us," Yudichak said.
Yudichak, in the release, also said he and Barletta wanted to provide the public with access to the top local and national gang experts. Hazleton police Detective Chris Orozco will be among the participants.
"There will be a presentation followed by a panel that will participate in a question-and-answer session," said Orozco, who started the city's Gang Task Force in 2007.
D. Darell Dones, a supervisory special agent of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI and a nationally renowned gang expert, will be the featured speaker.
On the panel with Orozco will be Kent Lane of the state police; Old Forge police Chief Larry Semensa, a nationally recognized expert on outlaw motorcycle gangs; Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll, and Lackawanna County District Attorney Andrew Jarbola. The moderator will be Andy Mehalshick of WBRE-TV.
In addition to fielding questions, experts will share what has worked in other areas of country.