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By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

CeaseFire outlines its mission at the citywide public safety meeting

 


An Oct. 23 citywide public safety meeting drew about 125 residents to the South Hills Retirement Center – formerly South Hills High School -- in Mt. Washington.

Those in attendance represented city departments including the police, city council, EMS, animal control, and emergency management, among others.

The presentation began with Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant dispensing accolades for the success of the recent free summer youth camp which attracted 141 youngsters. She thanked Michael Huss, director of Public Safety and Emergency Management; Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Citiparks; and Pittsburgh Transportation Company for their support.

She also thanked acting police Chief Regina McDonald for allowing 16 officers to volunteer to work with the children.

“The summer camps give us an opportunity to interact with kids one-on-one throughout the city,” the assistant chief said.

The next speakers were Rob Conroy and Shannon Williams, of CeaseFire Western Pennsylvania, an organization dedicated to reducing and preventing gun violence.

CeaseFirePA is working in communities state-wide to build support for reforms to reduce gun violence.

Ms. Williams said most guns used in crimes are not legally possessed, but were either lost, stolen, or the result of “straw purchasing” in which people who pass criminal background checks buy guns for criminals who are legally prohibited from possessing them.

Mr. Conroy said the organization wants to keep illegal firearms off the streets.

CeaseFire is starting a court watch program in which members attend sentencing hearings for gun crimes to testify and speak with the judge on the impact of guns in the affected communities.

The organization is currently involved with two legislative issues:

House Bill 1010: removes the exemption from the current background checks bill of long guns like assault rifles and shotguns; and,

House Bill 1515: requires gun owners to report when their guns are lost or stolen. There is no required reporting at all in the state.

Mr. Conroy said Bill 1010 does not add a new law, but rather simply takes away an exemption.

He said CeaseFire would like to see both bills passed statewide.

“These are things that make sense,” he said.

Next, Ray Demichiei, director of the city’s Emergency Management Agency, talked of public safety programs looking for volunteers.

The first is CERT, or the Community Emergency Response Team, which requires two hours of class per week for eight weeks.

The instruction topics are: disaster prep; fire safety and utilities; light SAR; medical operations; triage; organization, psychology of disasters; terrorism; and full scale exercise.

Another program is the three-hour course, Sheltering. Upon completion, participants will be able to: describe the procedures for opening, operating and closing shelters; organize available human resources as a shelter operations team; identify resources available to assist shelter workers; and more.

As a member of the ARC Disaster Response Team, volunteers will be asked to respond to the scene of an emergency; usually, a fire, to provide support to those who have been displaced.

Among other requirements, members must reside in the city, and be willing to respond as needed in all types of weather and at all hours of the day or night.

Next, Penny Fabian discussed Jeremiah’s Place, which has a target opening date of Jan ., 2014. She was joined by co-founders Dr. Lynne Williams and Eileen Sharbaugh.

Jeremiah’s Place will provide a therapeutic refuge of rest, health, safety, and psycho-social renewal for children and their families during times of crisis.

The mission of the city’s first crisis nursery is three-fold: to protect kids; strengthen families; and transform communities.

The non-profit organization will provide 24/7 temporary childcare to children ages 6 and under when their families are experiencing a crisis.

Dr. Williams said for children growing up under stress, the architecture of the brain changes. Youngsters who grow up in dysfunctional households also often take on many of the characteristics of those family members.

The nursery will focus on providing a warm, nurturing environment where children can be taken up to 72 hours without CYS involvement.

The plan to create a “home” in the East End will eventually care for 10 to 15 children at a time, and will be staffed 24/7 by trauma-informed caregivers and social workers.

The long-range goal is to have similar facilities in all communities.

Next, Richard Carrington, founder and executive director of Voices Against Violence, spoke along with Brandi Taylor about Coalition Against Violence.

It is an independent coalition of community and religious leaders, police, and education and government representatives dedicated to preventing violence and reducing the homicide rate among young African-American men.

A manual was recently produced of tactics for families in teaching and guiding children to become responsible adults and community members.

It also includes strategies for preventing bullying, domestic violence, gang involvement, and more.

In the announcements which concluded the meeting, Liz Style of the Mayor’s Office said the “Block Watch in a Box” tool kit is available, containing all the information one needs to start or strengthen a block watch. The information includes resources like neighborhood and public safety partners, city departments’ phone numbers, funding opportunities, suggested meeting agendas, and more.

The block watch kit can be found at: http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/publicsafety.

Neighborhood Watch signs are also available at no charge for posting. The signs are graffiti and water proof.

All street signs must be posted by the Dept. of Public Works, and at no charge.

Email Ms. Style at Elizabeth.style@pittsburghpa.gov to request signs.

 

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