As Officers Picket, City Stakeholders Plan Meeting to Address Violence

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Downtown stakeholders and other interested parties will meet Sunday afternoon at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center of Science & Technology to discuss ways to address the city’s surge in violent crime.

That surge is striking uncomfortably close to home for many downtown business and property owners, following increased instances of unruly individuals and even a shooting near a now-shuttered nightclub on West Commerce Street.

All interested downtown stakeholders and residents are invited to attend the meeting, listen and contribute to the discussion, according to an emailed invitation from Downtown Youngstown Partnership, a group of downtown stakeholders that operates under the auspices of Youngstown CityScape.

Anne Sabella, co-owner of Avalon Downtown, 17 W. Federal St., organized the meeting in response to the gunshots fired last month outside The Social, a nightclub that the city has since ordered shut down and boarded up.

Sabella said she has grown tired of the open drug use, as well as the dirt and filth she has to clean up. Last month’s shooting was “the last straw” for her, she declared.

“Putting my life and my family’s life in jeopardy took it to a entirely different level. I don’t know why it had to come to this,” she said.

“I have never seen it to this point,” she added. “If there’s shooting, you have lost control.” Because of the situation downtown, people are telling her they don’t want to come downtown, as the stigma associated with it returns.

Members of the YPD picketed downtown on Wednesday.

She also warned that she would not put her life or the lives of her family members at risk, and that she would leave downtown if she doesn’t see action and improvement on safety. She called for a greater police presence downtown, including a beat cop, and for the public sector to do its job “if you expect people to stay down here and pay city tax, the highest in the state of Ohio,” she said.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said he wants to work with downtown stakeholders to focus on “what needs to be eradicated.” He cited the closing of The Social – a downtown venue associated with gunfire, drug use, underage drinking and fighting – as one of the first steps taken to address their concerns.

In particular, Brown stressed that he wants to meet with the landlords and property owners at Sunday’s meeting because of a “disconnect with the people that are renting the spaces versus those who actually own the building,” he said.

“This is a solutions-based meeting,” he said. “We know the problems. We want to look for some solutions.”

Brown participated in a news conference Wednesday at the Covelli Centre regarding steps to address the surge in violent crime. He was joined by representatives of the Youngstown Police Department and other law enforcement agencies taking part in a new “impact initiative” that YPD Chief Carl Davis announced at the press event.

Criminal activity and gun violence so far this year are outpacing 2020 levels, with 23 recorded homicides and 83 injuries by gunfire, Davis reported.

“Those numbers are disturbing and part of a widespread trend that is occurring nationwide,” though he said he made “no excuses” for the increase in shootings that have taken place during his tenure as police chief.

Under the initiative, agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Ohio Investigative Unit and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will boost YPD’s efforts, Davis said. The combined agencies will conduct “aggressive saturation patrols” targeting areas of the city determined to have elevated levels of crime related to narcotics, gun violence and other forms of criminal activity.

Like the rest of the nation, the city is fighting two pandemics, said YPD Capt. Jason Simon, who is coordinating the effort. One is the spread of COVID-19 while the other is the increase in violent crime.

“Like COVID-19, this bloodshed is claiming lives at a catastrophic rate,” Simon said.

Among the victims of gun violence in the city this year is 10-year-old Persayus Davis-May, who was struck by a bullet inside a house on Samuel Avenue. Brown announced that a local business he did not identify added $5,000 to the reward being offered for information leading to the arrest and capture of anyone involved with the shooting, bringing the total to $15,000.

The impact initiative, which will have no defined end date, will help the central business district by allowing the unit assigned to downtown to stay there, Brown said. On several occasions, the unit has been pulled from downtown to respond to incidents elsewhere in the city.

“We’re not dealing with things in our downtown that other cities are not,” said Ellie Platt, co-chairwoman of Downtown Youngstown Partnership. DYP’s goal is to support the city in its efforts, she said.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown swears in Officer Tony Kaleugher with Chief Carl Davis at Wednesday’s conference.

As members of the Youngstown Police Association conducted informational picketing outside the Covelli Centre, Brown acknowledged the need to ensure city police officer pay is competitive with Mahoning County and other entities so Youngstown can retain officers. A new officer, Tony Kaleugher, was sworn in during the press event.

“We’re running out of police officers,” said Patrolman Jim Rowley, Youngstown Police Association president. “We’ll hire them, we’ll have them here for a few years and then they want to go off to other places where they’re getting paid more money.”

Starting pay for a YPD officer is $16.49 per hour and rises to $28.03, according to a flyer distributed by the picketers. That compares with $18.33 per hour in Boardman and $22.39 in Austintown to start, rising to $32.28 and $29.39, respectively.

To reach top pay takes 11 years, Rowley said. “We want to shorten that time,” he said.

The flyer noted YPA give-backs to the city since 2009, and cites workload far above comparable cities of Youngstown’s size and higher call volume than other cities in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

Rowley pointed to one officer who took a job at Akron Children’s Hospital because it paid $23 per hour, and another who left law enforcement entirely to go into the building trades.

“It’s hard to sustain your police department when people are leaving because of wages,” he said.

Participants in Sunday’s meeting are expected to include YPD Chief Davis and other representatives from the city, Youngstown State University and Mahoning County.

“We are all responsible and we need to work together,” Sabella said. “We need action and it needs to be done now.”

Pictured at top: YPD Officer Matt Simon joined picketers outside the Covelli Centre downtown on Wednesday.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.