South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Block watch 101 provided at South Side meeting


Block watches were the focus of the two-hour gathering at the Brashear Center on March 6.

Crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey discussed the role of law enforcement in block watches, while Liz Style of the city’s Dept. of Public Safety talked about how to form a block watch.

It was the third in a series of public safety meetings conducted by the South Side Community Council (SSCC).

“We are really really cleaning up Carrick,” Officer Luffey said of two recent drug busts, for which she credited a local block watch with providing important information.

“All of you are the eyes and ears of the community,” she said.

After learning from the 17th St. Block Watch about two disruptive residences of young men, she paid the troublemakers a visit.

Without naming her source, she told the five men living in one of the homes there were numerous complaints about their behavior.

She stressed they cannot move into the neighborhood and upset its quality of life. When she asked for landlord information, the young men became worried.

She told them her visit was a “warning.”

At the second house, in which no one was present, she taped a note to the door telling them to consider her visit a “warning.”

“Working together, the community and police get results,” Officer Luffey said.

A block watch member said she learned through the group others in the neighborhood have similar concerns. Members also email one another.

She also learned a lot about legalities, such that five unrelated people living in a single-family residence -- such as in the five young men -- is illegal. Councilman Bruce Kraus’ office was contacted, and the matter will be pursued.

Through trial-and-error the block watch member said she has learned various ways to get things accomplished, such as calling 911 for neighborhood disturbances.

“The police are there to help me,” she said.

Ms. Style, a South Side resident, said block watches are special as a means for neighbors to form relationships with the police, each other, and their council representative.

Forming one is easy, she said. It starts with neighbors talking to neighbors. If new students are moving in, they talk about strategies for dealing with issues.

Find out who in the neighborhood complains a lot, and ask them if they want to get involved in a block watch.

Invite Officer Luffey to talk at a meeting.

Meetings do not have to be held every month, she said.

But afterwards, follow up and send out informal minutes to keep in touch not only with attendees, but with those who expressed minimal or no interest at all.

Once a block watch is established, members will notice the neighborhood becomes cleaner and nicer.

If you take care of the little things, bigger crimes won’t move in, Ms. Style said.

If a quality of life violation occurs say, every Friday or Saturday evening, call 911 even if by the time the officer arrives the offender is gone.

“At least there is a paper trail,” Ms. Style said.

Information about the violation can then be shared with neighbors at a block watch, she said.

Officer Luffey said when she gets calls from people who want to start a block watch, she tells them to get a notebook and go door-to-door asking neighbors if they want to get involved.

Tell them you will set up a one-hour meeting with a police officer who will help. While some neighbors will decline, most will say yes, she said.

“It’s not hard and I’m always there for you,” Officer Luffey said.

Dr. Barbara Rudiak, public safety chair/secretary of the SSCC, said when approached by an organized group, people become more responsive, such as landlords.

Groups will also be more effective contacting Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh about problems with students residing in the community.

Ms. Style said another benefit of block watches is they can apply for grants. Members can also get involved with South Side organizations like Graffiti Watch.

She also suggested block watch members attend the Zone 3 Public Safety Council meetings held on the third Wednesday of each month, and often at the Zone 3 station on Warrington Ave.

Officer Luffey and Commander McNeilly usually attend, as do residents of various Zone 3 neighborhoods.

Attendees learn theirs is not the only neighborhood with certain problems. They may also learn new strategies for dealing with them.

There will also be a city-wide public safety meeting on April 22 on Butler St. in Lawrenceville. The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with food served from 6 to 6:30 pm. It is organized by zones 2, 4, and 5.

The heads of departments like the police, public safety, Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI) will be there. Individuals may speak with personnel on a one-on-one basis. Public safety information will also be available.

It will be new Mayor Peduto’s first public safety meeting.

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

Ms. Style said to let neighbors know first as they may feel the signs imply it is a high crime area.

But block watches are not simply about focusing on the bad, she said.

“Think of it as neighbors helping neighbors so it becomes a positive thing,” she said.

Neighbors can get together for National Night Out, which will be held on Aug. 5 this year.

Block watches can also hold parties in block watch areas, and invite non-members as well. Streets can be blocked off once a permit is obtained.

Neighbors can also enroll in public safety programs offered by the city’s Emergency Management Agency, such as CERT, or the Community Emergency Response Team, which requires two hours per 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.

Training dates are upcoming.


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