A presentation on gang awareness highlighted the June 18 meeting of the Upper Knoxville Block Watch which drew 51 attendees.
The guest speaker was city police Detective Ashley Thompson of the Criminal Intelligence Unit. District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus was also a guest.
In his presentation, Det. Thompson said his unit gathers and analyzes information for the community and other detectives. There is no "gang task force" in Pittsburgh, but rather different units which are involved in the gang problem.
His unit also deals with major drugs, dignitary protection, major crimes, and more.
Gangs in Pittsburgh can be traced back to the 1950s and 1960s. The youth gangs of the late 1980s and early 1990s are drug-related.
A gang by definition engages in criminal activity, he said.
It is estimated that Pittsburgh has 44 active gangs involving 875 members.
There are no known all-female gangs in Pittsburgh. Females are usually used to hide/store weapons, rent cars and property, and more, he said.
According to the officer, some of the reasons men join gangs are power, status, security, love, money, identity, and peer pressure.
Many gangs use one or more colors or styles as a symbol of their gang. They could include pants worn below the waist, two- or three-toned bead necklaces, bandanas, and sports clothing of specific teams.
Among the ways gang members communicate are symbols and numbers, tattoos, slang, hand signs, and graffiti.
Regarding graffiti, residents should follow the 4 R's: read, report, record, and remove. Reporting refers to contacting the police. Recording with a camera helps police in tracking gang activity and movements among neighborhoods.
In his report, Mr. Kraus, who is city council's Public Safety Chair, said to call 911 when observing a crime.
For trash on a property, or any other violation, residents should call 311, the city's phone number for government information and non-emergency services. Callers receive a reference number so they can call back to learn the resolution.
Mr. Kraus said that after calling 311 and receiving a reference number the caller should contact his office with the complaint and reference number. His office will follow up on the call.
He also announced that a town meeting will be held this summer to introduce new Commander Catherine McNeilly, and to engage in a question-and-answer session on crime and other local problems.
Some attendees said they would like to see Knoxville Middle School reopened in the summer as a recreational site. The school, which closed in 2007, has a gymnasium, auditorium, swimming pool, playground, and basketball courts that would keep children off the street, said the attendees.
Mr. Kraus told them to get a signed petition and take it to the school board, and he would back them.
To a question about the nuisance property legislation which passed last year but has not yet been implemented, Mr. Kraus said there is no money for the additional building inspectors and police which are needed for enforcement.
Under the act, after three violations within 90 days, the property becomes a nuisance property. The owner then has to pay back the city on all costs incurred, such as police and building inspector calls to the site, unless action is taken to evict the tenant.
An attendee complained about a Section 8 residence in which two females live with 13 children. The latter run unattended throughout the neighborhood. It is also suspected there are plumbing problems in the home.
Mr. Kraus said he will have the county Health Dept. look into the matter.
In neighborhood news, block watch president Mary Ann Bennett read a list of 115 reported crimes in Knoxville from May 1 to June 12.
They were: 2 aggravated assault, 2 armed person, 17 burglary, 17 criminal mischief, 1 DOA, 12 drugs, 3 DUI, 15 harassment, 3 hit-and-run, 1 identity theft, 12 incident, 1 resisting arrest, 4 reckless endangerment of a person, 3 recovered stolen property, 3 simple assault, 1 tampering, 1 theft by deception, 1 theft from auto, 7 theft from person, 5 theft from residence, 3 violation of firearms.
The distribution of the 115 total reports in the areas covered by Knoxville's three block watches are: 37 reports, or 32 percent, in Upper Knoxville; 65 reports, or 57 percent, in the 30th Ward; and 13 reports, or 11 percent, in McKinley.
Of the 37 reports in Upper Knoxville, the breakdown by blocks/streets is:
aggravated assault (2): 100 block of Jocunda St.; 200 block of Jucunda St.
accident (1): 200 block of Charles St.
burglary (9): 200 block of Charles St.; 300 block of Charles St. 200 block of Jucunda St.; 400 block of Jucunda St. (2); 100 block of Knox Ave.; 200 block of Zara St. (3).
criminal mischief (5): 100 block of Jucunda St.; Jucunda St. and Georgia Ave.; 200 block of Orchard Place; 400 block of Orchard Place; Knox Ave. and Zara St.
drugs (4): Amanda Ave. and Charles St. (3); Amanda Ave. and Jucunda St.
DUI (2): Amanda Ave. and Orchard Place; Michigan Way and Ibis Way.
harassment (2): 400 block of Rochelle St.; Knox Ave. and Charles St.
incident (3): 100 block of Amanda Ave.; 100 block of Charles St.; 100 block of Jucunda St.
resisting arrest (1): Amanda Ave. and Charles St.
REAP (reckless endangerment of a person (1): 100 block of Orchard Place.
theft from auto (1): 200 block of Rochelle St.
theft from person (4): 100 block of Jucunda St.; 100 block of Orchard Place; 100 block of Zara St. (2).
theft from residence (2): 100 block of Charles St.; 100 block of Rochelle St.
In other news, an "Anti-predator Lending Workshop" will be held on June 26 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the St. John Vianney Center, 823 Climax St. Scams, excessive rates, misrepresentation of terms of contract, predatory lending, and more will be discussed.
Attendees should enter from the parking lot.
Call 412-325-3371 to reserve a space at the workshop.