Taking a trip through the South Pittsburgh Reporter's files is like a trip down Memory Lane.
There I ran across names of old friends and acquaintances including: Tom Cunningham, Ralph McDaniel, Bill Mullen, Doug Johnson, Paul Donaldson, Gwen Elliot, Cheryl Doubt, Bill Joyce, RaShall Brackney, Larry Ross and Catherine McNeilly. At one time or another over the past 21 years, all have occupied office space in the first floor of 1725 Mary Street, the Zone 3 Police Station. All have served as commander or acting commander of Zone 3 since it was changed from No. 7 Police Station to Zone 3 around 1987. And those are just the ones we have mentions of in the files.
Over the last 21 years six men and four women have led Zone 3, some more than once, and two as "acting" commanders. From approximately 1986 to 1996 there were four commanders: Cunningham, McDaniel, Mullen and the first stint of Johnson.
Commander Johnson then left the zone for 14 months while on medical leave and was replaced by Acting Commander Donaldson. He returned in 1998 and that's where the story picks up.
In the last ten years Zone 3 has been headed by at least eight commanders. It's at least eight due to one acting commander who shall remain nameless after serving in the position for less than two weeks. Three of the commanders retired after their service in the district.
According to our files going back to 1980, commanders (or as they were called then, inspectors) were serving approximately three to four years in a station before being rotated out. From 1984 to 1996 the commanders served three years in the station before being reassigned.
In the late 90s, things get a little dicey with Commander Johnson taking sick leave and then returning 14 months later, but still resulting in three changes in command in four years.
What is most distressing is that in the 2000s (and we're not done with them yet), South Pittsburgh has seen six changes in leadership at the precinct level. While no one is questioning the leadership ability of any of the Zone commanders, each one brought a different skill set and different set of priorities to the table.
With each change in command a different leadership style is also brought to the station. Consistency in leadership of the men and women of Zone 3 is a factor when a commander barely gets his or her boxes unpacked when they are reassigned.
Some commanders were more receptive to meeting with community groups and neighborhood leaders, an almost impossible task with the size of Zone 3. Before having 12 neighborhoods reassigned to the new Zone 6 there were reportedly more than 60 community meetings a month in the 31 neighborhoods in Zone 3. Now the new Zone 3 encompasses 19 individual neighborhoods, remaining the largest police zone in the city.
Recently Councilman Bruce A. Kraus has been calling for more police in the zone saying there are nearly 40 fewer officers now than before Zones 3 and 4 were combined, although Zone 3 remains a third larger than it was before the merger. Residents of South Side and Hilltop neighborhoods agree the staffing levels at the station and the revolving door of commanders has been detrimental to the community.
It has been common for residents, and neighborhood leaders, to complain about a lack of police protection at community meetings and to Councilman Kraus. It is time for the entire South Pittsburgh community to ask for a hearing before City Council.
Any resident may request a hearing before Council about the staffing at Zone 3 by submitting a petition signed by 25 residents (who are eligible to vote) to the City Clerk.
A copy of a petition requesting "A hearing before City Council on the frequent changing of the Zone 3 commander and the low levels of staffing at the Zone 3 Police Station and the affect it is having on the communities it serves and protects" is available on-line at www.sopghreporter.com and clicking on the "Police Petition" link on the right side or at the South Pittsburgh Reporter offices at 813 E. Warrington Avenue.
Those who download or pick up petitions and return them to The South Pittsburgh Reporter will have the signed petitions submitted to the City Clerk's Office on Wednesday, July 23, 2008.