Leaders hope a new commission will reduce violence and promote positive mental health in Allegheny County.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he formed the Public Health Commission on Preventing Gun Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health upon request of state Rep. Ed Gainey of the 24th Legislative District.
“We’re going to be focused on making sure we look at the best practices, the best ideas, implement them in our community and doing all that we have to do to make sure that we reduce and eliminate the violence in our neighborhood,” Gainey said.
Calling community violence a public health problem, Fitzgerald said the problem needed to be approached from a public health perspective.
Dr. Ron Voorhees, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, and the Rev. Earlene Coleman of the Bethlehem Baptist Church of McKeesport will serve as co-chairs of the commission.
“We’re not just talking about reducing homicides," Voorhees said. "We’re talking about what are the things we can do that change the fabric of communities in Allegheny County so that violence doesn’t occur."
Twenty-one other members include elected officials, health workers, advocates and members of law enforcement.
Within the next year, the commission will be finding and developing effective ways to prevent violence. The hope is that these strategies can be used to reduce violent injuries and death and to increase access to mental health care.
There were 96 homicides in Allegheny County last year. Voorhees says homicides are up 25 percent in the last decade in the county.