Harrisburg fights uptick in gun crimes with State Police aerial support

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Many residents noticed things on Wednesday and Thursday nights were a little bit different in the skies above the city.

Referred to as "proactive policing" by Harrisburg police officials, they partnered with the Pennsylvania State Police's aerial unit, which offered visual support over patrol scenes the last two nights through the use of a PSP helicopter.

"I heard they were looking for criminals or doing some kind of safety," said Nanette Burney-Mitchell of Harrisburg, who said she heard the helicopter the last two nights. "I think it's a good idea. The safer I feel, the better."

Reached by phone Friday, Harrisburg Police Chief Thomas Carter told FOX43 the aerial patrols are in response to an uptick in gun crimes and shootings the last few months, many of them involving juveniles.

It's a move that some advocacy groups are supporting to keep young people safe.

"We want them to know that we love them," said John Watson, who founded Iron Dome Legal Advocacy Group in 2015 to support young people and keep them from street life. "We extend our right hand and we're here for the dialogue, because a lot of matters, they go from 0 to 10, matters that could easily be resolved through dialogue, and this is our hope."

The state police offers this service from time to time to local police forces, according to Ryan Tarkowski, a PSP spokesperson.

Funding for the aerial unit is already allocated in the department's operating budget, meaning aerial patrols come at no additional cost to municipalities.

Aerial support has already assisted in making several arrests and taking guns and drugs off the streets, Carter said, adding that it will not happen on a nightly basis, but will be used for "a while".

Making a difference, even through a different method, seems to be supported by community members.

"I'm all for law and order, and if it helps the police with doing their jobs and making the Harrisburg area safer, I'm all for that," said David Doray, who works in Harrisburg.

"The reckless acts of violence in the city are something that has to give one way or another," Watson said. "It is our hope that to curtail that, that they're able to get in front of it."