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Program Credited With Drop in Crime in Pa. City

A collaborative initiative between Reading police and the state board of probation and parole is producing dramatic results after 10 months.

State and local officials announced Tuesday that the new Reading Street Crimes Unit contributed to a 24 percent reduction in crime since it began in August 2013.

The initiative involves parole agents riding along with police officers to supervise high-risk offenders with a focus on balancing enforcement with re-entry efforts.

Reading Police Chief William M. Heim said it has been successful because of that team atmosphere and sharing of information and resources.

"We do a lot of things in Reading to reduce crime, but this is one of the more innovative things we've done," he said. "The goal here is to have offenders re-enter the community. Parole officers are monitoring the progress of the offenders. When it doesn't work, that's when we step in and remove the people creating violence from the community."

There are two parole agents employed in the program: Kimberly Bartasavage and Jeff Peters. They each spend two full shifts with Reading police officers every week, checking in on high-risk offenders and accompanying the officers on their other calls.

So far, 115 offenders have been referred to the Street Crimes Unit, with 60 parolees then referred to programming and treatment.

The initiative is a result of the January 2013 crime summit and a call by Gov. Tom Corbett to commit the assistance of state agencies to Reading to find ways to work with local authorities to coordinate resources and reduce crime.

Michael C. Potteiger, chairman of the state board of probation and parole, approached Reading police with the idea.

He stressed the cognitive intervention portion of the program, which works to reduce arrests through proper programming and treatment for parolees.

"We want to change their criminal thinking and change their criminal behavior, which will hopefully make them productive members of our community," Potteiger said.

The Harrisburg police department began a similar program, without the portion that tries to change behavior, in the late 1990s.

Due to the success of the Reading program, the board is hoping to expand it to other counties. They are working with officials in Chester County, Norristown and Philadelphia to start a similar initiative by the end of the summer.

Copyright 2014 - Reading Eagle, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service