Chester County is proud to boast the lowest crime rate of all third class counties in the state of Pennsylvania.However, one blemish in the county’s impressive crime rate is the city of Coatesville. Coatesville has a higher crime rate per population than Philadelphia, the county’s district attorney, Joseph Carroll said.
Carroll set out to change that. Knowing that Coatesville was the most problematic area under his jurisdiction, he relocated himself into the belly of the beast itself, moving into a house in Coatesville to bring change through his presence.
“Last year I made a New Year’s resolution,” Carroll said. “I wanted to change some politics and law enforcement to lower the crime rate. The city council lied a lot and made a lot of poor decisions so I wanted to change the leadership (of the town).”
City Council was not the only system to fall under the watchful eye of the vigilant district attorney. “I wanted to change the police chief. He was the only police chief in the state that was not a law enforcement officer. He made a lot of poor decisions. Also, I wanted a new city manager.”
Carroll set out to make his New Year’s resolution a success by moving into a house located in the city of Coatesville and holding open house meetings twice a week. “I also talked to church and community groups,” he said. “It would be impossible for me to go door to door to gather support so I had to use the press as well.”
Not all parties in Coatesville were excited about the relocation of the district attorney to their city. “I received some threats and was called some unkind names,” he said.
Carroll was adamant about implementing changes to lower the crime rate. He was successful in ousting four of the worst members of the city council and the police chief. Julius Canale now serves as the city’s police chief. Carroll believes his open house meetings were partly responsible for the changes brought to the city.
“Three of the new city council members were at my meetings,” Carroll said. Carroll feels more confident in his new city council, consisting of Council President Edward Simpson, Vice President Karl Marking, as well as Jarrell Brazzle, Martin Eggleston, Joseph Hamrick, and Ingrid Jones.
Elected officials are not the only successful change he has helped initiate in Coatesville. He is also noticing an overwhelming turnover in the support from some of the residents.
“One change has been getting more information from the people,” Carroll said. “Some of the people calling me bad names in the beginning now support me with important information. This is something we did not have before.”
Carroll is also proud of the programs that have sprung up recently. Neighborhood watches and after-school programs are now part of the community as well as volunteer programs to fix curbs and other programs to tidy up the city.
Carroll grew up in the borough of West Chester and knew from an early age that he wanted to get into law enforcement. During his childhood years, he was an avid watcher of “Perry Mason,” a detective show that ran on on television from 1958 until 1966. The show featured a defense attorney who protected innocent defendants.
“I thought ‘I wish police and prosecutors had someone as smart as Perry Mason,'” Carroll said. “In high school I knew I wanted to be an assistant district attorney.”
He began his career in 1975 and has spent his entire adult life as a public prosecutor. His first major case and the biggest of his career, was when he was one of three attorneys trying the infamous Johnston Brothers gang. The case itself has been chronicled in the film “At Close Range” and a book, “The Johnston Gang.”
“At the time I was a new A.D.A.,” Carroll said about the highly publicized trial. “I was one of three assigned to the case.” Over the years the two other prosecutors have left office leaving Carroll as the sole remaining prosecutor to deal with the trial that is still relevant 20 years later.
Recently, Carroll has turned his attention to another issue he believes to be important within the borough.
“In the past three months texting while driving has caused two deaths,” he said. “I am going to treat texting while driving as a homicide,” Carroll said.
Carroll plans to reside in Coatesville for at least six more months. The end of his term as district attorney is in 2012.
Ken Schmidt is a fifth-year English major with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at KS609536@wcupa.edu