By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Police, school board member address MO/SC block watch


Crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey and school board member Cynthia Falls were the speakers at the March 27 meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch held in the Saint John Vianney Parish Center.

Kevin Kerr, community relations manager in the Office of Councilman Bruce Kraus, was also in attendance.

In her remarks, Officer Luffey said she does community relations, and addresses animal cruelty complaints. Regarding the latter, this was her hardest winter yet as so many animals were found in brutal temperatures outdoors, she said.

The district attorney gave the okay to take animals left outdoors during the polar vortex. Seven such animals were rescued.

“I can’t wrap my head around the issue of common sense,” she said.

To a question about Officer Larry Skinger, Officer Luffey said he is no longer in charge of abandoned vehicles as his position was put out for bid. Instead, Officer John Stofesky is now in charge of abandoned vehicles in Zone 3.

To report abandoned cars, 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 follow-up.

Officer Luffey also reported the 16th Annual “Biscuits Bingo,” a fundraiser for local animal organizations presented by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, drew 420 bingo players on March 8. Due to space limitations, 60 players were turned away. She is aiming for a bigger hall next year to avoid that problem.

At the event, she told attendees about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets. The Bureau of Animal Care & Control will spay and neuter pets for city residents for free, she said. Not only are animals healthier for it, but it keeps them from contributing to the stray animal problem.

Officer Luffey also told bingo players to follow their hearts when it comes to their passions. One of hers is clean neighborhoods. She said if everyone would just clean up in front of their homes, it would make a big difference, and we would have a clean city.

The fine for litter thrown from a car is $300; with costs, it becomes $420.

To a question from block watch coordinator Suzanne Photos about abandoned vehicles on both sides of a street, like on St. Joseph St., Officer Luffey said if the inspection and plates are expired more than 90 days, they can be towed immediately.

If the sticker on the plate is valid, but the inspection sticker is expired, call 311. The owner will receive a warning letter.

She also said to call 311 if the tag on the license is expired, but the inspection sticker is valid. Call 911 if the vehicles are creating a danger, like broken windows with glass everywhere.

Mr. Kerr said to also call Councilman Kraus’ office about abandoned vehicles, and someone will look into it.

To a question about handicapped parking, Officer Luffey said handicap placards can be used to park at any handicap spot, and not just the spot in front of one’s home.

The next public safety meeting will be a city-wide meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on April 22 in Teamsters Hall, 4701 Butler St., Lawrenceville.

Food will be served from 6:00-6:30 p.m. Mayor Peduto, police commanders, heads of city departments like the Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI), and others are scheduled to attend.

Officer Luffey concluded her remarks with what she called her best advice to residents: “Continue to make calls.”

Next, Ms. Photos said she hopes to invite speakers to the next block watch meeting who can explain land banking, which is a means of battling blight.

Mr. Kerr called it a better way to manage abandoned properties.

It is also controversial, as opponents call it a “land grab,” he said. His advice is to use caution when hearing such descriptions.

Ms. Photos said with the Hilltop being a valuable location, residents need to pay attention and become involved.

Next, Ms. Falls, a retired Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher, said she is “passionate about kids and education,” and likes the current school board ties between the mayor/city council/police force.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” she said.

Ms. Falls said public hearings, which are not televised, are held once a month by the school board. Residents with questions/comments should attend.

“There is power in numbers,” she said.

In announcements, Ms. Photos said the Hilltop Alliance is trying to secure approval to have a flagpole erected at the intersection of Mountain and Wagner avenues in Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair. Mr. Kraus is providing a city flag, while a resident is donating a U.S. flag.

As the flagpole would be on school district property, district approval must first be granted.

Ms. Photos also reported she applied for a “Love Your Block” grant, but was not chosen for funding.

The block watch meets on the fourth Thursday of every other month, with no summer meetings scheduled at this time.

Upcoming 2014 meetings will be held at 7 p.m. in the Saint John Vianney Parish Center, 823 Climax St., on May 22, Sept. 25, and Nov. 20.


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