READING, Pa. — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide rates involving a firearm rose nearly 35% from 2019 to 2020, with suicides also remaining high nationwide.
“It’s very sad to hear those numbers, and it kind of interrupts you to say, ‘OK, what can we do as an organization to really reach out to the community?'” Christopher said. Winters of the Olivet Boys & Girls Club.
Reports say firearms were involved in almost 80% of all homicides and more than half of all suicides in 2020 – all of this happened as the pandemic began to spread across the country .
“It has to be a countywide effort for us to realize that we are fighting a battle against violence as its own epidemic,” Winters said.
As these latest figures come out, behind the location of the Olivet Boys & Girls Club Pandora Park, Reading Police are reaching out to young people at an early age to try and reduce the worrying statistics through the Academy of the department’s police youth.
“It’s a lot. I was raised in the city – I went to Reading High,” Deputy Chief Javier Ruiz of the Reading Police Department said, “so I have a great interest in the city.”
“There is another way to deal with your anger, other than resorting to violence so quickly,” said Meaghan Bausher, program coordinator.
With the Reading Police Youth Academy program in its infancy, those involved hope to increase their numbers in the coming months.
“If I could take 20 kids off the streets and have them join them, then maybe next year expand to 40 kids, and the year after that, 60,” Ruiz said, “that will be great.”
The CDC says rates of firearm homicides are consistently highest among men and boys. That’s why the police and the club seek to reach them more directly with positive and engaging activities like the academy.
“A lot of it just comes from giving them positive interactions,” Bausher said, “giving them something they can do beyond what a lot of their counterparts do.”