The Reading Police Department took a proactive step toward community engagement by hosting a Town Hall meeting Tuesday, November 14th, in downtown Reading. The event, held at Alvernia University’s Reading CollegeTowne campus, provided a platform for residents to voice concerns, ask pressing questions, and share ideas regarding how the department addresses the needs of the community.
The Town Hall began with a presentation by Reading Police Captain Cheryl Pentheny, who discussed crime statistics and trends. Key crime statistics reporting included 13 homicides, 29 reported rapes, 86 robberies, 208 aggravated assaults, 283 burglaries, 787 thefts, 187 motor vehicle thefts, and 17 arsons from January 1st to September 30th, 2023. A comparison with the previous year showed an overall 9% increase in group A offenses.
Captain Pentheny highlighted that most violent crimes were not random, with a connection between the victim and suspect. Property crimes, however, often involved opportunities like leaving cars unlocked. The presentation emphasized citizen actions, such as securing property, to prevent becoming victims.
The panel of police leadership jointly discussed its efforts to reduce crime, including presenting budget requests for more officers, using data-driven strategies, and conducting gun violence reduction details. The latter resulted in 88 arrests, 18 seized firearms, and collaborative efforts with other law enforcement agencies.
The group discussion began with community members expressing the need to acknowledge historical tensions between law enforcement and marginalized communities. Concerns about racial trauma, negative media portrayals, and instances of mistrust were brought to the forefront. Attendees stressed the importance of fostering positive relationships, suggesting increased community engagement, friendly police presence, and involvement in local organizations as potential solutions.
Amidst the conversations, participants referenced crime statistics, underlining the challenges the police department faces. The shortage of police staff was acknowledged during the meeting, prompting discussions on recruitment strategies, lateral transfers, and enhanced benefits to attract qualified candidates. Attendees also raised concerns about disruptive behaviors in specific neighborhoods, with discussions touching on the challenges of enforcing curfews and the importance of holding both citizens and police officers accountable.
During the Q&A session, a concerned parent raised issues about the relationship between the police department and schools, expressing a desire for a healthier connection. She emphasized the need for a positive environment for students and sought plans to improve collaboration with the school district. In response, the police acknowledged the importance of fostering a two-way relationship with the school district, planning to increase school resource officers and build positive interactions with students once a new police chief is appointed.
Suggestions for the new police chief included being visible, culturally aware, and understanding the diverse community. The importance of mental health support for officers and collaboration with community organizations, schools, and parents was also emphasized.
As the Town Hall meeting concluded, the Reading Police Department panel of officers expressed gratitude for the community’s participation and emphasized the significance of continued collaboration. The event served as a positive step toward building trust and fostering a stronger relationship between the Reading Police Department and the residents they are committed to serving and protecting.