Police answer questions about staffing of Zone 3 at Arlington meeting
"We're trying to be proactive rather than reactive," Councilman Bruce A. Kraus said in Arlington last week about the Town Meetings in District 3 neighborhoods he has been holding.
Assistant Police Chief William Bochter, Lt. Shirley Sloan, acting commander of Zone 3 [while Commander Catherine McNeilly is on vacation] and Zone 3 Crime Prevention Officer Christine Luffey were on the panel of public safety officials at the meeting.
Councilman Kraus quickly noted some of the concerns: shootings on the Hilltop, absentee landlords and bad Section 8 tenants.
In discussing the problems of absentee landlords and the fear of retaliation by some residents for reporting crimes they see in the neighborhood Mr. Kraus was a strong advocate of Silent Complaint Forms. He said the forms could be filled out anonymously with the complaint and returned to his office where he will see to it that the forms get to the police.
"I don't want you to feel you're at risk for doing your civic duty," he added.
The City Housing Authority also recently instituted a Hotline to report problems with Section 8 properties. Anyone who wants to report a problem with a property in the Section 8 program may call 412-456-5511.
Before talking about crime in the district, the councilman passed out a handout with statistics compiled by CMU comparing Pittsburgh with 14 other major metropolitan areas. The statistics compared the murder, robbery and burglary rates for a 10-year span from 1996 to 2006.
In each case Pittsburgh ranked near the bottom with fewer reported crimes in all three areas. Only Minneapolis and Boston had lower murder rates per 100,000 people; Denver having fewer robberies; and, Boston fewer burglaries. The 15-city average for murders was 7.2 per 100,000 people with Pittsburgh coming in at 4.3; the robbery average was 183.6, Pittsburgh's was 116.2; and, the average number of burglaries was 657.9 where Pittsburgh's was 428.9.
Arlington residents may have been a little skeptical of the statistics in light of the "eight or nine shootings on the Hilltop" Councilman Kraus said there have been this year so far. He also mentioned Chief of Police Nate Harper's saturating several of the Hilltop neighborhoods with police on a recent weekend in response to the shootings.
"I think that [the city] putting the extra police officers on the Hilltop is the proper response, but I don't know that it's the long range solution," he said.
After reading off the list of calls in the neighborhood, Officer Luffey said, "compared to the other Hilltop neighborhoods, the crime statistics are low [in Arlington]."
In many of the neighborhoods he has been visiting, Mr. Kraus said residents have been asking for more beat officers to walk the streets. He said that the city had $400,000 that could either be spent on beat officers in the city's business districts or hire kids for the summer.
According to the District 3 councilman, through the efforts of District 9 Councilman Ricky Burgess, the city was able to put together a package of nearly $800,000 that would allow them to put more beat officers on and hire close to 900 youth for the summer. He said the kids were originally supposed to just pick up litter in the neighborhoods, but they didn't feel that was best serving the youth or the city.
Although some of the kids are picking up trash in the neighborhoods, others are working in different capacities throughout the city as interns in the various departments.
When residents asked if there would be a beat officer in Arlington because they haven't seen one, Lt. Sloan said there hasn't been one assigned to the neighborhood. She said that Zone 3 is able to have one beat officer three days a week (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday) for eight hours a day and 16 hours a day the rest of the week. The daily hours can be broken down between different officers and shifts.
Asst. Chief Bochter said that the police are looking at all the communities in the city for emerging patterns of crime and trying to get ahead of it.
Lt. Sloan added that the police's Impact Squad has been working on the Hilltop, trying to hit the "hot spots in Zone 3." She said the night lieutenant is more aware of where the problems are and is directing the squad to those areas.
One neighborhood resident was concerned because she lives in an alley and the only time she has ever seen the police on the street is when they came to reprimand her for a problem with her dog.
"The officers kind of pride themselves on knowing where all the streets and alleys are," Asst. Chief Bochter said assuring the woman that the police know all the streets in the zone.
"We want them to take a slow cruise through the alleys with their spotlights on," he added.
Councilman Kraus expressed his concerns about the staffing levels at the station repeating that Zone 3 only has at total 71 officers available for patrolling on all shifts, not including desk personnel. That number is 38 fewer than before the merger of Zones 3 and 4 but after Zone 6 was reopened.
The splitting of the zones also left Zone 3 with the neighborhoods of Brookline, Beechview, Banksville Overbrook and Mount Washington, neighborhoods it didn't have before the merger.
The best case scenario has 22 officers available on any shift, not considering pass days, sick days, vacations and other days off. It's been recently reported that on some shifts there are fewer than a dozen officers patrolling the entire Zone 3.
"By contract they get to pick their pass days [regular days off]. They frequently hold officers to another shift, but it's an overtime thing and eventually the city will go broke or the officers will burn out," Asst. Chief Bochter said.
He said that the city is starting a very small class at the police academy, less than 20, and that they will "look to fill holes where they were needed the most." He said they have 36 officers currently in training with veteran officers who will soon be available for duty and added that Zones 3 and 4 need them the most.
He explained that Zone 6 houses more than just the local station, in addition they also have the Traffic Division with 20 motorcycles and the Investigation Division.
"Logistically, it was [difficult] getting them to fit there," he said.
He pointed out that when Zone 6 reopened they took 36 officers from Zone 3. "Just enough to cover the calls."
"The response times don't show a pressing need to change the Zones again," he said of moving Brookline, Beechview, Banksville and Mount Washington back to Zone 6. "If we add neighborhoods from Zone 3 to Zone 4, we'll have to take officers from Zone 3 to cover them."