Pubdate: Fri, 15 Feb 2008
Source: Altoona Mirror (PA)
Copyright: 2008 Altoona Mirror
Author: Walt Frank


Operation Our Town has added a powerful tool to aid in the war against
drugs in Blair County.

The business-led partnership with the community has initiated a
partnership with state police to reduce illegal drug use and related
crime in the area.

"This is something very unique in Pennsylvania. This is one of the
first partnerships with business and community the state police have
entered into," said Michael Fiore of L.S. Fiore, one of the founders
of Operation Our Town. "The state police have been working with us;
this partnership will enhance the state police operation throughout
the county."

The partnership has three main components:

- -- Saturation details throughout the county, which could include the
use of K-9 units, helicopters and troopers.

- -- Undercover drug investigations.

- -- Operation SHIELD, a highway interdiction team of troopers trained
to detect narcotics in vehicles.

"We can now target an area of the county plagued with drug abuse and
violent crime and maintain our other responsibilities," said Lt.
Timothy J. Mercer, commander of the Troop G Criminal Investigation
Section of state police at Hollidaysburg. "Through this partnership,
we will bring these troopers into Blair County to work on this problem."

Operation Our Town celebrated its first anniversary Thursday during
the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club at The Casino at
Lakemont Park.

At its inception, the nonprofit organization received three-year
commitments of at least $10,000 a year from more than 25 businesses.

Randy Feathers, regional director of the state Attorney General's Task
Force, said it has had a positive impact.

"We see a lot of communities that talk about making changes in the
fight against drugs, but there are very few that actually step up.
Blair County stepped up, and we did it together," Feathers said.
"The crime rate all over the county is down because our county has
stepped up and is helping law enforcement."

According to the state's Uniform Crime Report, Altoona's crime rate
dropped 3.46 percent in 2007, which translates to 164 fewer crimes.
Crime rates also dropped in Bellwood; Allegheny, Blair and Greenfield
townships; at Penn State Altoona; and in areas covered by troopers in

Operation Our Town will continue its focus on law enforcement in 2008.
It will award $200,000 to help pay for special operations such as the
warrant and interdiction squads, saturation patrols, search warrants,
drug hot line, drug raids and more.

It also will make the second $45,000 payment on a three-year grant for
an assistant district attorney specializing in drug cases.

Operation Our Town will broaden its focus from enforcement to include
prevention and treatment with $200,000 in grant money targeted for
proven local prevention and treatment programs.

"The drug treatment and prevention side is important," state
Attorney General Tom Corbett said. "This area was isolated 35 years
ago. Today, people from outside are coming in [and] corrupting our
youth and adults. We have to break that cycle."
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