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Officers consider climate

Law enforcement has come under the national spotlight since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25 while under police custody, with the ensuing public reaction ranging from peaceful protests to rioting and looting.

While rioting and looting have occurred across the country, such civil unrest has taken place almost exclusively in urbanized areas. Small town America has had its peaceful demonstrations but little of the pockets of destructive behavior. Law enforcement officials in Huntingdon County are of course aware of the national attention but are focusing on protecting and listening to the citizens within their jurisdiction.

Huntingdon Borough Police Department (HPD) Police Chief Jeff Buckley highlighted the extent to which his officers are integrated into the Huntingdon community, which may provide benefits that a big city police force might not have.

“I think we’re a community-oriented department,” he said. “The majority of our guys are local and invested in the community, guys who coach Little League, participate in fundraisers and give back to the community. We know our community and I feel like we try to give back and try to be cognizant of people’s needs. I don’t feel like we see the problem some of the bigger cities have. But we are constantly mindful of what other departments are doing and learn from their mistakes.”

Another tight knit community’s leader, Mount Union mayor Tim Allison, who doubles as the head of the Mount Union Police Department, also believes in always looking for ways to improve how the department serves citizens.

“We at Mount Union care about our people and we strive to treat everybody fair. We will continue to do that and will be looking into better ways of serving the community. I think that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

State police Trooper Joseph Dunsmore, community service officer with Troop G which covers Huntingdon County, told The Daily News about a longstanding tradition established in 1929 that aims to instill an attitude of equality under the law.

“During an individual’s time at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, we have an ongoing tradition. Every single day at the academy every cadet, whether from 50 years ago, 70 years ago, or one who has just graduated six months ago, recites the Call of Honor.

We do that in unison, as a collective group made up of many different races, religions, genders. One line in particular says, ‘It is my duty to obey the law and to enforce it without consideration of class, color, creed or condition,’” he said.

Regardless of the amount of social turmoil or what the public sentiment may be to law enforcement, Dunsmore says state troopers will continue to hold themselves to the high standards set forth by the U.S. Constitution.

“We recognize everyone is going through troubling time right now in our society. We’re still going to go out and do our job to protect our citizens, and protect our individual constitutional rights every single day,” he said.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

The Trinity Assembly of God hosted evangelist Nathan Pimental, during an evening worship service at the Portstown Park in Huntington Sunday evening. Pimental instructed those who congregated, who totaled around 50 people, to allow themselves to be born again. While Pimental preached, Trinity pastor Greg Lloyd and his family backed him up with an instrumental performance. The Assembly of God community donated gifts and food for a picnic before the service, and offered balloons and facepainting to young attendees.

Experts see no proof of child-abuse surge amid pandemic

NEW YORK (AP) — When the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the United States in mid-March, forcing schools to close and many children to be locked down in households buffeted by job losses and other forms of stress, many child-welfare experts warned of a likely surge of child abuse.

Fifteen weeks later, the worries persist. Yet some experts on the front lines, including pediatricians who helped sound the alarm, say they have seen no evidence of a marked increase.

Among them is Dr. Lori Frasier, who heads the child-protection program at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center and is president of a national society of pediatricians specializing in child abuse prevention and treatment.

Frasier said she got input in recent days from 18 of her colleagues across the country and “no one has experienced the surge of abuse they were expecting.”

A similar assessment came from Jerry Milner, who communicates with child-protection agencies nationwide as head of the Children’s Bureau at the federal Department of Health and Human Services. “I’m not aware of any data that would substantiate that children are being abused at a higher rate during the pandemic,” he told The Associated Press.

Still, some experts believe the actual level of abuse during the pandemic is being hidden from view because many children are seeing neither teachers nor doctors, and many child-protection agencies have cut back on home visits by caseworkers.

“There’s no question children are more at risk — and we won’t be able to see those children until school reopens,” said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor who heads CHILD USA, a think tank seeking to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Several states said calls to their child-abuse hotlines dropped by 40% or more, which they attributed to the fact that teachers and school nurses, who are required to report suspected abuse, no longer had direct contact with students.

“While calls have gone down, that doesn’t mean abuse has stopped,” said Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, which reported a 50% drop in hotline calls.

Comprehensive data on abuse during the pandemic won’t be available for many months, according to Milner.

And whatever the current level of abuse, there’s no question some of it is horrific.

Georgia Boothe of Children’s Aid, a private agency that provides some of New York City’s foster care services, said some of the children now entering the system were brought in by police officers investigating domestic violence reports.

“The level of severity in some of those cases is unreal,” she said.

Frasier, the Pennsylvania-based pediatrician, said some of her colleagues documented a sharp increase in shaken baby syndrome and children’s head injuries during the 2008 recession, which they attributed at least partly to economic stress.

“With the pandemic, we saw the high jobless rates, the layoffs, and we thought ‘OK, now we’re in for it again,’” she said.

She and others have noted some changes during the pandemic — for example, more accidental injuries from burns, falls and mishaps on farms. What they have not seen is a surge of child abuse.

Frasier has a couple of guesses as to why — a protective effect in households where multiple people were locked down together and federal financial aid that eased the stress on some vulnerable families.

In Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Heather Williams says she and her colleagues who specialize in child-abuse pediatrics were braced for a pandemic-fueled surge, based on the experiences of 2008. Now she wonders if the recent infusion of federal unemployment assistance may have helped ward off such an increase.

“We’d be really excited if we’re wrong,” she said.

At the Children’s Bureau, Milner says he’s gratified that child protection is deemed a high priority during the pandemic, but he was troubled by the tone of some of the early warnings. He suggested that some had “racist underpinnings” — unfairly stereotyping low-income parents of color as prone to abusive behavior.

“To sound alarm bells, because teachers aren’t seeing kids every day, that parents are waiting to harm their kids — it’s an unfair depiction of so many parents out there doing the best under very tough circumstances,” he said.

One of Milner’s top aides, special assistant David Kelly, noted that in normal times a large majority of calls to child-abuse hotlines don’t trigger investigations.

“We know that the majority of findings of child maltreatment are for neglect, not physical abuse or exploitation, and we know that there are strong associations between neglect and challenges associated with poverty,” Kelly wrote in a June 12 article in the Chronicle of Social Change.

“If we take a closer look … we might be able to see the depth of resiliency that is present and the remarkable efforts poor parents make to get by on the smallest fraction of what many of us have.”

Concerns about children’s well-being amid the pandemic extend beyond physical abuse. There are worries about children missing vaccinations as their parents skip visits to doctors’ offices.

For children with internet access, weeks away from school have increased the risk of online sexual exploitation, according to Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau. She heads the Johns Hopkins Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

However, Letourneau is encouraged by one recent trend — more older children are calling hotlines themselves to report exploitation and abuse.

People urged to look for insect

In the midst of a global pandemic and ongoing social unrest, Huntingdon County residents may have forgotten the county is one of 12 added to the quarantine area for the Spotted Lanternfly in March.

Those eggs are now hatched and, if they are around, they’re much easier to spot.

“They’re now up to about a quarter of an inch long,” said Shannon Powers, “They’re in the second phase of being a nymph, which means they’re black with white spots. Some of them may have already matured to the red and black phase, and we’ll likely start to see adults next month.”

When Huntingdon County was added to the list of quarantined counties for the Spotted Lanternfly in March, Powers explained the reasoning for it.

“The previous 14 counties (already in a quarantine area) had widespread insect populations,” she said. “But, you’ll see clearly how the insect travels. It travels by hitchhiking with people. It doesn’t fly. It didn’t fly across several counties to get to Allegheny and Beaver counties. It got there by traveling people.

“The 12 added counties had very isolated infestations,” added Powers. “That’s part of the reason we expanded the quarantine area. We wanted to tamp down isolated areas where it traveled along transportation corridors.”

Thanks to the efforts from the state Department of Agriculture and the Penn State Cooperative Extension, people are more aware of the Spotted Lanternfly.

“There’s been a huge effort,” said Powers. “It’s personal when it’s affecting them in their home.”

Powers estimated that 10,193 reports have been made between Jan. 1 and June 18, whereas there were only 1,607 reports between Jan. 1, 2019, and June 18, 2019.

“That’s not a reflection of how much more widespread it is, but how much more aware people are of its presence,” said Powers. “It’s really hard to truly gauge how widespread it really is.”

This is why Powers recommends people go online and familiarize themselves with the different stages of the Spotted Lanternfly and learn more of what to expect when they look for it.

“This is especially if you’re traveling in and out of the quarantine area,” she said.

This is also why people who are traveling in and out of the county specifically for business reasons are required to have a permit if they are in a quarantine area for the Spotted Lanternfly.

“A company is required to identify those who have a permit and those traveling for business,” said Powers. “If someone takes the training online, they can, in turn, train other people.”

The training to have a permit to travel for a Spotted Lanternfly is not an extensive process, but merely identifying what the insect looks like, where to look for it and how to destroy and not take it when leaving a quarantine area.

“If you work in the transport industry, that would be a part of a regular stop at a weigh station,” said Powers. “That’s one of the inspections that are completed at a weigh station. If you work in an industry that transports agriculture goods like nursery plants or trees, they’re used to those kinds of inspections. This is just one more aspect of it. They can keep their documents and permit in their vehicle.”

There are also checklists available for homeowners at agriculture.pa.gov/spottedlanternfly on where to look for, destroy and report potential infestations.

With less people traveling due to previous stay-at-home orders may have prevented some spread of the Spotted Lanternfly, but right now, it’s still too early to tell, said Powers.

“It’s important for people, especially if they’re camping, which is something you can do safely right now,” said Powers. “It’s very important to check your vehicle, so not to take the fly in and out of a camping area and not take it home with you.”

If anyone finds a potential infestation, Powers encourages people to call 1-888-422-3359, and she said strike teams from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the PDA will come to the site for further inspection.

“They follow up on every report and treat the area appropriately, depending on the stage its in,” said Powers. “If you report and can verify, please be sure to take a photo as well. Those help.”