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Vandergrift, Penn Township among state's safest towns

posted Jun 15, 2017, 4:07 AM by Joseph Gray   [ updated Jun 15, 2017, 4:15 AM ]

Leif Greiss | Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 5:00 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Grant Street in Vandergrift on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. The borough recently was named the fourth safest town in Pennsylvania.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Vandergrift recently was named the fourth safest town in Pennsylvania based on FBI crime data.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Storefronts along Grant Street in Vandergrift. The borough recently was named the fourth safest town in Pennsylvania based on FBI crime data.

Vandergrift is the fourth safest community in Pennsylvania, according to Safewise's list of the 20 safest cities in the state.

“We're all happy about it,” Vandergrift Mayor Lou Purificato said. “It's quite an honor.”

Safewise, a home security and safety advising company, based the list on 2015 FBI crime data. The list does not include cities that did not submit complete crime reports to the FBI, nor does it include cities with populations below 5,000.

Vandergrift, which has a population of about 5,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, just made the cut.

This is Safewise's fourth annual list of the safest Pennsylvania communities and the third year Vandergrift was ranked in the top 25. In 2015, it was ranked 22; in 2016, it moved up to 14. These are significant increases from the 2014 list, when Vandergrift was ranked 179.

Vandergrift did have one of the higher rates of violent crime in the top 20 at 1.59 incidents per 1,000 people, though it is important to note that rate still is very low. Vander­grift's violent crime rate is half the state's average rate per 1,000, according to data from website Neighborhood Scout.

By comparison, Pittsburgh's rate of violent crime is 7.29 per 1,000 people, with an overall rate of crime at 40.85 per 1,000, compared to Vandergrift's overall rate of just 2.38 per 1,000.

Marilee Kessler, who is on the board of directors for the Vandergrift Improvement Program, said Vandergrift is a community where people sit out on their front porches during the summer. She said the biggest saving grace of Vandergrift is that everyone talks to each other.

“I've lived in Honolulu; Ulm, Germany; Virginia in the Washington, D.C., area; and Philadelphia,” Kessler said. “Vandergrift is the kind of place where you can walk around the park anytime and feel safe.”

Julia Martin, owner of Byers Taxi Service and Byers Busing in Vandergrift and chairwoman of Vandergrift's Improvement Program, said she feels Vandergrift is a great place to live and operate a business.

Councilman Lenny Collini said he credited the ranking to how well police in the Alle-Kiski Valley collaborate. Collini said living in the Valley is like being a part of a greater community.

Kessler, who is one of the civilian coordinators for the Community Watch in Vandergrift that works directly with Vandergrift's police force, said the police are extremely active within the community.

Among the many instances of community outreach they take part in, Vandergrift's police participate in community cleanup days and have gone to area elementary schools and given out bike helmets and raffled off bikes to the students there, Kessler said.

Penn Township

In Westmoreland County, Penn Township also made the list at No. 10.

Safewise did not rank Penn Township last year, however. On the 2015 list, the township was ranked 14, Safewise Community Outreach Manager, Emily Long said.

Jim McClosky, manager of popular Penn Township eatery Sweet Buzz Bean and Bistro, said the township is close-knit — the kind of place where you know everyone and, when you pass them on the street, you stop and ask how they are.

Penn Township Commissioner Chuck Konkus, who heads the township's public safety committee, had similar sentiments. He said the township is a place where people know and look out for their neighbors. Konkus said the proactive and progressive approach of police Chief John Otto and the rest of the police force is an important part of what makes Penn Township safe.

Otto said addressing problems and not hiding them is vital. He likes to get things done, and police in Penn Township are visible and active in the community.

“The officers we have love what they do, they have fun with it, but they are professional.”

However, Otto said keeping communities like Penn Township safe requires strong leadership and for everyone in the community to keep an eye out and stay proactive.

Leif Greiss is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4681 or Follow him on Twitter @Leif_Greiss.

10 safest towns in Pennsylvania

1. Paint Township, Somerset County

Previous rank: 2

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.00

Property Crimes per 1,000: 0.58.

2. Redstone Township, Fayette County

Previous rank: 6

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.18

Property Crimes per 1,000: 1.29.

3. Luzerne Township, Fayette County

Previous rank: 9

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.00

Property Crimes per 1,000: 1.53.

4. Vandergrift, Westmoreland County

Previous rank: 14

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 1.59

Property Crimes per 1,000: 0.79.

5. South Heidelberg Township, Berks County

Previous rank: 67

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.41

Property Crimes per 1,000: 2.32.

6. South Park Township, Allegheny County

Previous rank: 11

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.15

Property Crimes per 1,000: 2.59.

7. Upper Yoder Township, Cambria County

Previous rank: 13

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.95

Property Crimes per 1,000: 1.90.

8. Spring Township, Centre County

Previous rank: 21

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.13

Property Crimes per 1,000: 3.02.

9. Millcreek Township, Lebanon County

Previous rank: 8

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.36

Property Crimes per 1,000: 2.88.

10. Penn Township, Westmoreland County

Previous rank: Not ranked

Violent Crimes per 1,000: 1.57

Property Crimes per 1,000: 1.83.

Municipalities that made the top 100

16. Whitehall

19. Franklin Park

21. Fox Chapel

24. Adams Township

27. South Fayette

30. Upper St. Clair Township

36. Castle Shannon

43. Indiana Township

51. Peters Township

55. Baldwin Borough

57. Jefferson Hills Borough

61. O'Hara Township

71. Middlesex Township, Butler County

76. Murrysville

78. Jeannette

81. Washington Township, Westmoreland County

85. Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County

92. Moon Township

96. McCandless

Source: Safewise