Pubdate: Wed, 13 Apr 2005
Source: Valley Independent, The (Monessen, PA)
Copyright: 2005 The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Chris Buckley


CHARLEROI -- Since speaking out at the March Charleroi council meeting about
alleged drug problems in the community, business property owner Carl Miklos
said he has faithfully read The Valley Independent, looking for news about
drug arrests made in Charleroi.

"I haven't read anything in the newspaper," Miklos said. "I saw Monessen had
seven drug arrests about two weeks after the meeting. It seems like Monessen
is doing what Monessen always does, pester the heck out of the drug

Miklos was among some 20 residents and business leaders who crowded borough
council chambers slightly more than a month ago, demanding something be done
about what they perceived to be a serious drug problem in the Magic City.

In the nearly five weeks since, police have arrested one person for
drug-related problems -- and that was the result of a traffic stop.

Charleroi police Superintendent Armand Costantino, though, is pleased with
the work of his department in the past month.

"I think there's been progress," Costantino said. "We're working on
something big. We expect arrests soon."

But Charleroi Councilman Jerry Jericho isn't quite as optimistic.

Jericho criticized Costantino, alleging the superintendent has failed to
talk to any of those who raised concerns at last month's meeting.

"I'm very disappointed," Jericho said. "Nobody's followed up on this."

As a result, he expects more residents and business owners to complain at
council's meeting Thursday night.

A letter from Charleroi attorney Herman Bigi in which he called the downtown
"a haven for drugs and crime" was read at the meeting. One month later, Bigi
said no one from the borough or the police has contacted him to discuss his
concerns or complaints.

"The problem's still there," said Bigi.

At the March meeting, borough officials urged residents to call the drug
hotline to report drug activity in Charleroi. The police have received few
complaints in the past month on the drug hotline, (724) 489-2305, Costantino

The superintendent said one caller complained that a loud party was in
progress at her neighbor's home. An officer who was patrolling the area
reported back to the superintendent that nothing was occurring, Costantino

"We investigate every call we get," he added.

Costantino said one borough police officer who is a member of the Washington
County Task Force is heading up Charleroi's drug-fighting force.

While Costantino said police have been "a little more visible on the
streets," he questioned the scope of the borough's drug problem.

"I think more was said than has actually happened," he said. "There's been a
lot of suspicion, but not a lot of fact. Just because you see someone hand
something to someone else or because they look the part doesn't mean they're
selling drugs."

The superintendent said he has asked borough officials to budget some time
for officers to patrol in street clothes.

Costantino said when he walks down the borough streets, he sees people on
cellular telephones making calls and wonders if they are tipping off others
that he is coming.

While some have applauded Monessen for seeking assistance from the state
Attorney General's Office to fight drug activity in that city, Costantino
said that has just pushed the drug activity into neighboring towns, not
eliminated it.

"You never stop it, you just push it around," he said.

Costantino implored the public to not give up on the police department.

"We're not giving up, we're not throwing up the white flag," Costantino

But, according to Bigi, they're not solving the problem, either.

Bigi claimed that many older residents are afraid to walk in Charleroi at

"It's dangerous at night on the streets of Charleroi," Bigi said. "The
people have told me they're glad I'm complaining because it's bad in

Bigi said the residents "don't want excuses."

"If we can't look to the police for protection, who can we?," Bigi asked.
"I'm not being derogatory toward anyone, but we want protection."

Miklos said he understands that the police are frustrated by a system that
allows the accused drug dealers to make bail and be back on the streets,
pending trial. He also believes the borough police are "under funded and
under staffed."

But the residents and business owners are also frustrated, Miklos said.

"We're not looking for excuses, we're looking for solutions," Miklos said.

Miklos said he doesn't believe anything has changed in the past month.

"It's going to be an ongoing problem," Miklos said. "It is not going to go
away like a bad cold. It's not going to go away by itself."
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