Changes have taken place over the past five years-plus regarding the neighborhoods patrolled by the Zone 3 Police Station, based in the South Side.
The zone doubled in size in September, 2003 when Zone 4 in the West End was closed for budgetary reasons, but has since been reduced to a more manageable size since the West End station was re-opened in January of this year.
This expansion and contraction has challenged the Zone 3 Public Safety Committee and the role it serves as a liaison between the police and the community.
Zone 3 Public Safety President Ken Wolfe has remained sensitive to the ever-changing geographic size of the zone and the public it serves.
A reflection of these changes is the organization's recent shift of where it holds its monthly meeting. For the first time since the zone was originally expanded more than five years ago, the monthly meeting was not held at the recreation center at Banksville Park.
The October 15 meeting took place at the Caliguri Hall (aka St. Clair Athletic Association Center) in Arlington on Spring Street. The purpose of the meeting is for Zone 3 police officials to meet with citizens who reside anywhere in the zone. Those who usually attend are community leaders from the various neighborhoods.
The most recent meeting attracted more than 30 residents who came from a mixture of neighborhoods, ranging from the South Side Flats and Slopes, to Allentown, Mount Washington, Knoxville and Allentown as well as the host community, Arlington.
Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly spoke to the residents about a variety of issues.
Ms. McNeilly took over as commander of the zone less than six months ago, replacing Larry Ross who was transferred to Zone 5, based in the eastern neighborhoods of the city.
Some residents no longer attend the meetings on a regular basis, like they did when they were held at Banksville. This includes residents who represented neighborhoods including Beechview, Sheraden, Elliott , Fairywood and the West End. Beechview, Brookline and Banksville are still served by Zone 3, but that will change in January when those three large, heavily-populated neighborhoods are shifted back to Zone 6 (formerly 4) in January.
Carl Suter, the vice-president of the safety committee for several years, stepped down from the position earlier in the year, when the neighborhood where he resides, Sheraden, was no longer a part of Zone 3.
"It's a more compact zone and we're only losing six officers [among 75 officers based there] so it's not a big detriment, that means the zone is only losing two per shift," Mr. Wolfe said.
The Zone 3 station is scheduled to be moved out of its South Side location on Mary Street to Allentown at the site of the former youth hostel, at the intersection of Warrington and Arlington avenues, where it was closed on Halloween of 2003.
Mr. Wolfe cautions that moving the building where the Zone 3 officers will be based, is not a cure-all for the ills that trouble the Hilltop neighborhoods.
"I think the physical presence of the station on the Hilltop will mean you won't find the hookers up there [on Warrington Ave.] like they have been, but as for the long-term effect, if you look at all the zones out there, Zone 1 on the North Side, the first block there on Federal Street, that didn't really make a big difference there at that point. There was still crime going on at that block even though the police station moved there.
"You look at Zone 5 and where it was located before it was moved to Washington Boulevard [where driver's license tests were held], but when it was in Penn Circle North, across the street from a McDonald's and that McDonald's was robbed several times while the Zone 5 station was still there.
"Wherever a police zone is based, it may get rid of the nuisance crime, such as hanging out and loitering on the street where the police are located, but it doesn't get rid of crime."
Mr. Wolfe believes the fatal shooting that took place at a bar on Warrington Avenue recently would have taken place regardless of where the police station is located. The shooting took place just a few doors from where the Zone 3 station is slated to go in.
"There was shooting at the Crossroads [convenience store] on 18th Street this past summer which is less than a block from the Zone 3 police station."
The next Zone 3 public safety meeting [tentatively set for November 19], will take place at the same Arlington location as the October meeting with Commander McNeilly expected to be there. She has been a regular speaker at these meetings since she became the commander in May.
"We are going to move around to other neighborhoods for our meetings," Mr. Wolfe said. "We'll be moving to other locations [in the early part of 2009]. We're also looking to have our meetings in South Side, Allentown, Knoxville and Arlington. It depends on what places are available for us to meet."
Carrick, which has always been on the outskirts of Zone 3, was rarely represented at the meetings when they were held in Banksville. Mr. Wolfe is hoping that will change in the future.
"It's going to fall on me to get them to come more often," Mr. Wolfe said. "Hopefully, with the commander's insistence, they will be at the meetings on a more regular basis…I think there needs to be stability and interaction with the police, not just here, but in every zone throughout the city.
"The neighborhood and police have lost some of that interaction with each other because you don't have the police walking a beat like they used to. The residents don't see the police every day. Now, it's just someone calling the police, they show up [take a report] and then they're gone after a few minutes. That interaction that we used to have, doesn't take place anymore."