By Bruce A. Kraus
Recently, a public meeting of the Pittsburgh City Council, District Three, was held on South Side to provide the residents with the opportunity to address the council with their concerns and suggestions of how best we can bring a higher quality of life to all District Three neighborhoods.
One community member that addressed the council that evening, Judy Hackel, for years now a tireless advocate for the Allentown neighborhood, spoke with such passion about her frustration regarding the deterioration of public safety resources and the failure of City Hall to address the continuing decline of "quality of life issues" within the Hilltop neighborhoods, that I was reminded of Howard Beales' famous lament in the 1976 film "Network:" "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."
Judy, more of us are with you than you may realize.
It is no accident that I serve as Chairman for the Committee of Public Safety Services on City Council. Believing that the first duty and obligation of government is to protect its citizenry, and that safe and effectively policed neighborhoods bring about a list of rewards so plentiful and too numerous to list in this limited space, I lobbied Council President Doug Shields for this appointment.
Meeting with Mayor Luke Ravensthal, Chief of Staff Yarone Zober, Chief of Police Nate Harper, Public Safety Director Michael Huss, then Zone 3 Commander Larry Ross and now our new Commander, Catherine McNeilly, I relayed my concerns in regards to what I believe is lacking in the way we provide Public Safety Services to the Zone 3 neighborhoods, and my suggestions for implementing a "comprehensive, long range Public Safety plan" for all South Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
My request for a comprehensive Public Safety plan presented to the Administration is as follows:
With six different commanders leading Zone 3 within eight years, there is no opportunity to build relationships with police patrols, community leaders, residents and businesses. If we believe that "beat officers" on the street bring about more effective policing because of the relationships they build in the process, how could one argue that it is not the same for command staff? Relationships require time and energy to build. Just when we begin to see progress and effect change, command staff changes. We need a commander with the vision and understanding to lead Zone 3 for the long haul — starting here, starting now.
With the opening of the new Zone 6 Station in the West End, Zone 3 went though a reorganization process that saw a decline of 38 officers from 2003 staffing levels (from 109 down to 71 officers) and an increase of five additional neighborhoods (Brookline, Beechview, Banksville Overbrook and Mount Washington) increasing the number of neighborhoods comprising the new Zone 3 to 18. On any given shift, this precludes vacation, call offs, sick leave or military duty, the highest staffing levels at the new Zone 3 only reach a total of 22 officers policing 18 neighborhoods, or 1.2 officers per neighborhood.
With the gun violence and ongoing landlord/tenant issues we are experiencing this summer in our Hilltop neighborhoods, and 105 alcohol licenses and the ongoing "frat house," anything goes as long as we are making money selling alcohol, mentality of the South Side Flats these days constantly draining public safety resources, one has to ask: "Why were additional neighborhoods added to the new Zone 3, and staffing levels reduced, when clearly the zone is already stretched to the breaking point?"
In addition, problems with the timely servicing of public safety vehicles persist. As of today, there are as few as 3-5 operational police vehicles within Zone 3 and many officers confide in me that they are using their personal vehicles, and incurring the additional costs, in the line of duty.
How is this permitted to happen?
Here is how you can help me to effect this much needed change in the policing policy of Zone 3:
Please sign the petition being circulated throughout Zone 3 to request a public hearing before council regarding these matters, and make it a priority to attend the hearing when it is scheduled.
But in addition to that, I need you to place phone calls to the Mayor's Office (412-255-2626) requesting first, his presence and the presence of Public Safety officials at the public hearing, second, to tell him you are in support of my requested long range, comprehensive Public Safety plan for Zone 3, and third, to ask him what his plans are to implement these changes as quickly as possible. If directed to phone 311, say this particular call is not a 311 call and you want to speak to the mayor directly.
With these changes in policy enacted, we will not only be providing protection to Zone 3 residents and businesses, but also provide for the prevention of problems before they can happen. We will put into motion a proactive and not reactive police force, fully equipped and fully supported to do the difficult and dangerous job they are called to perform.