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Chief disputes survey results on downtown Waynesboro safety

August 02, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Forty-eight percent of people who took a recent survey said they don't feel safe in Waynesboro's downtown after dark.

Another 33 percent were undecided.

"I'd be interested in knowing what people are talking about," Waynesboro Police Chief Ray Shultz said.

Ninety people, of the 418 households that received surveys, returned the questionnaires in which Borough of Waynesboro residents were asked about parking, lighting, store hours and sidewalks, among other topics.

They overwhelmingly said there aren't enough restaurants in the borough, then also said they go elsewhere for clothing, haircuts, groceries and banks.

"Until we solve our safety problem, we're never going to change our downtown. We can have all the grant money we want ... but if people feel unsafe, they're not going to come downtown," Main Street Manager Carole L. Malin said.

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Malin is the administrator for nonprofit organization Main Street Waynesboro Inc., which is seeking to revitalize the stretch of Pa. 16 that becomes Main Street in Waynesboro.

Shultz said at least three officers are on duty at all times, with two or three more on duty when shifts overlap. Their calls don't typically differ in type or frequency depending on the time of day, he said.

"I just think we're totally busy 24 hours a day," Shultz said.

When interviewed Wednesday, Shultz and Malin talked about the survey results in two ways: Shultz commented on actual crime, while Malin shared concerns about the perception of hazards.

"I don't recall when we would have had any type of purse snatchings, muggings or random assaults downtown," Shultz said. "I just don't think I have the statistics to say downtown is unsafe."

People believe what they're told about downtown, even if it's not based in fact, Malin said.

"I've not experienced that it's unsafe, ... (but) if enough people talk about it being unsafe, it becomes unsafe because people perceive it as being unsafe," she said.

For instance, one woman apparently heard about someone being followed to a car, "so now this lady doesn't want to open a business downtown," Malin said.

She has encountered fears when developing the new Walkers of Waynesboro program.

"Some of the walkers are saying, 'We've been warned not to walk downtown,'" Malin said.

Violations of noise, obstruction and bicycle laws are ignored, meaning people gather in groups, sit on stoops and yell obscenities at passing vehicles, Malin said.

"Kids ride their bikes on the sidewalk and scare people half to death. Then they ride their bikes on the streets and people are scared," she said.

The bikes, skateboards and roller blades are not permitted between Broad and Franklin streets, Malin said.

"It doesn't mean we have an alternative. It's enforcement of what we have on the books," she said.

The surveys were distributed through a joint comprehensive planning process between the Borough of Waynesboro and Washington Township, Pa. Engineering firm Spotts, Stevens and McCoy of Reading, Pa., compiled results.

Forty-four percent of the survey respondents disagreed with the statement that "downtown is clean, friendly and inviting." Seventeen percent agreed with the statement.

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