While criminal gangs have not been a serious problem in Blair County, officials stressed that awareness and preparation are more effective tools than reacting once gangs take root in the community.
Todd Negola stressed preparation over response during a Wednesday meeting of the Blair County Neighborhood Watch program.
Negola of the Pennsylvania Gang Investigators Association compared the community's attitude of brushing off signs of possible gang activity to that of a doctor running a battery of tests for an unknown ailment.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Pennsylvania Gang Investigators Association Vice President Todd Negola (right) talks with Blair County Sheriff Mitchell Cooper prior to an Operation Our Town Neighborhood Watch meeting Wednesday evening at the Devorris Downtown Center in Altoona.
"Why is it that when we look at societal problems, it's more common to live in denial?" Negola asked.
The Neighborhood Watch program has several active groups in different neighborhoods in Altoona and in Tyrone and is growing in membership, Blair County Sheriff Mitchell Cooper said.
"We're hoping to have it expand throughout all of Blair County," Cooper said.
Members typically get to know their neighbors and communities and can quickly call police if they see any criminal activity, he said.
The groups typically meet once a month to update and discuss efforts in their communities and routinely welcome guest speakers.
Additional information on gang violence and identifying the warning signs of gang activity was one of the most requested programs of area neighborhood watch groups, Cooper said.
Negola said he was confident the continued efforts of neighborhood watch groups would help identify potential problems before they take hold in the community.
"That's the community coming together, and that's what I'm appreciative of," Negola said.
The next Neighborhood Watch meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Devorris Downtown Center.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.