When you think of a state capital, impressive buildings and centers of political power come to mind.
That’s certainly a big part of the story in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. But there is another aspect to the city, one it has in common with other communities in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
We refer to the problem of crime.
This week we learned that a local lawmaker, state Rep. Jaret Gibbons — along with two members of his staff — were accosted by two armed men in Harrisburg. They were robbed at gunpoint and an aide’s car was stolen.
We are grateful no one was harmed in the incident, and that police soon were able to arrest two men they believe are responsible for the crime. So, in a way, that constitutes a happy ending.
But as anyone who has ever been victimized by a serious crime knows, it’s not that simple. These incidents take a psychological toll. It’s one thing to know intellectually that crime is a concern; it’s another thing entirely to experience it first hand.
For Gibbons and his aides, they can expect to relive the robbery, not only via news media interviews, but also in upcoming court proceedings. The legal activities alone could stretch out for a year.
We suppose some odd form of comfort can be taken in the fact Gibbons was not targeted because he is a legislator. By all appearances, this was nothing more than a brazen robbery, and anyone could have been the victim.
This isn’t the first time a Pennsylvania lawmaker has been a target of crime in the state capital. For elected officials who pass laws and provide funds for the commonwealth’s criminal justice system, such incidents give them an up-front view of crime outside of official debates and committee meetings. We’re sure that Gibbons’ fellow lawmakers are buzzing about what happened to him, and how it could have happened to them.
Legislators in Pennsylvania have no extra protections against crime. They don’t have bodyguards and there is no special police force or team that works to ensure safety. In an example of equality in our culture, the crime perpetrated on Gibbons should be treated like other similar incidents.
Yet it may give lawmakers in Harrisburg a little perspective about the costs and consequences of crime. Statistically, we are told the crime rate in America has experienced a long decline, probably in part because of tougher sentencing and because the nation as a whole is growing older. Yet it doesn’t always seem that way, especially for those who become victims.
The toll crime takes runs deep as it robs people of their sense of safety and security. It is expensive when resources are used for private prevention efforts. And government picks up a huge piece of the crime tab, funding police, courts and prisons.
Obviously, there is no quick fix. But what happened to a local lawmaker this week reminds everyone that there is much to do to combat crime, and society should be open to new, innovative and aggressive ways to make that happen.