By Margaret L. Smykla
Zone 6 police Commander Scott Schubert and 311 manager Wendy Urbanic were the guest speakers at the Carrick/Overbrook block watch meeting on March 5 in the Pittsburgh Concord K-5 auditorium.
The meeting began with a Westmont Ave. resident saying drug dealing is occurring in the street again, and that some of the problem neighbors have returned.
Another Westmont resident said he was putting his house up for sale.
That is in contrast to last month's meeting in which a turnaround in crime and other negative quality-of-life activities was reported following establishment of a neighborhood block watch there six months earlier.
A Carrick business owner said drug dealing occurs in his building, the sidewalks are a mess, and there is a deep hole in the street in front of his house. He said he takes care of his property, sweeps the sidewalks and wants business owners cited who allow their property to become an eyesore.
He said he gave up on calling 311 a long time ago because no action has been taken on problems he reports.
In her presentation, Ms. Urbanic said Carrick is one of the top five neighborhoods 311 hears from, which shows that residents care.
She said there is confusion among residents about the difference between 911 and 311. If a police officer is needed, call 911.
"We try to assist police but never want to be mistakenly called in an emergency," she said.
For ongoing problems like trash on a property, illegal dumping, graffiti, abandoned cars, 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 to their problem.
Residents can also call 311 to leave police tips if they don't want to call the police themselves.
"Our responsibility is to get information to the proper departments," she said.
To a question about reporting building violations, she said inspectors at the Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI) will inspect a house, and then send a notice to the owner about violations.
If the problems are not corrected, legal challenges may be filed before the local district justice.
Sometimes the owners are given more time to make corrections, which prolongs the process -- and the frustration for those impacted by a neglected structure in their neighborhood.
Ms. Urbanic asked attendees to give her the addresses of the top three to five most troublesome properties, and she will target them.
A Kirk Ave. resident said she has cleaned up lots of bottles and needles in front of the property.
"Keep reporting," said Ms. Urbanic, who also said she would call Zone 3 to see what is happening at the address.
In his brief presentation, Commander Schubert said if residents simply call a particular officer with information it might move no further if the officer is busy or is transferred.
But if they leave a paper trail by reporting the information to 311, it becomes available to all law enforcement officials. Ms. Urbanic can then do a follow up.
Commander Schubert called the disruptive property ordinance "a work in progress."
Under the ordinance, after violations of specific crimes within a certain timeframe, the property becomes a disruptive property. The owner is cited, even if it is a rental property and the tenants are causing the problems.
The disruptive property task force meets monthly.
Today, said the commander, there are 840 city police officers, down from the 1200 when he was hired.
"We're always trying to do more with less," he said, noting the response time is good when officers receive a call.
The 911 dispatchers are the ones who prioritize calls.
If someone calls 911 for a street fight, for example, it may not receive high priority, and by the time officers arrive the fighters may have dispersed.
"We don't dictate where they send us," he said.
When he asked for traffic issues, an attendee said motorists at the top of Biscayne and Becks Run roads do not know they are approaching Concord School because there is nothing alerting them to watch for students.
"We need better signage there," he said.
To cover school zones, the city-wide motorcycle unit changed its hours to 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m.
There was also a complaint about suburbanites blocking the intersection of Route 51 and Nobles Lane by CoGo's from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sometimes motorists approaching the intersection must sit through four light changes before they make it onto Route 51.
To a general question about the process for getting a stop sign put up, Commander Schubert said to contact the city's traffic engineer.
Ms. Anthony said block watch meetings will be held the first Mondays of each month until June in the Pittsburgh Concord K-5 auditorium.
The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. on April 2.