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By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Knoxville next in line for a public safety blitz of the neighborhood

 


A community forum on starting a “Knoxville Blitz” to reduce neighborhood crime and blight, and generate community pride and empowerment, drew city officials to the St. Paul AME Church on May 11.

The meeting was sponsored by the Knoxville Community Council (KCC).

Among the attendees were Mayor Bill Peduto, city Council President Bruce Kraus, Zone 3 police Commander Karen Dixon, chief operations Officer Guy Costa, Zone 3 community resource Officer Christine Luffey, and others.

The mayor began by calling Knoxville “kind of unique” in that it gets “lost” in the city as it is not as big as some neighborhoods, nor does it have the development that some do.

He said a blitz was conducted in Carrick last year and, if Knoxville residents were willing, “we will put together a game plan.”

Officer Luffey, who was involved in the Carrick blitz, called it “spectacular.”

In the blitz, city and community groups zero in on hotbeds of crime and blight.  In Carrick, police presence increased; businesses bought and erected cameras; and residents’ calls to 911 increased with tips on illegal activity.

The aggressive policing resulted in more drug arrests and the lowering of total crime compared to a year earlier.

Mr. Kraus said of all the neighborhoods he represents, Knoxville is “the most challenging.”

He said when he was growing up on the South Side, Knoxville was regarded as a bedroom community.

But when anchors like churches and schools close, everything begins to change.

“How do you reinvent a neighborhood?” he asked.

“We need to get a handle on abandoned cars and blight and begin to come back,” he said.

The mayor shared an anecdote about life in the neighborhood years ago that he was told that evening by a long-time resident.

The woman told him if there was a picnic, and the guests ran out of, say, ketchup, someone went to the nearest house, entered, went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, and brought back ketchup.

“That’s what we want to restore,” he said.

In his slideshow presentation, Grant Gittlen, the city’s manager of the Office of Community Affairs, said one of his initiatives is the Carrick blitz.

He said he believes the same can be done in Knoxville.

He said the first step in the Carrick blitz was what he called “the basics”: 14 working group meetings, five community meetings, and the engagement of 175 people.

Building the team occurred last August, followed by: identifying issues; gathering and analyzing data; and creating an action plan.

The latter was implemented in September and October.

There were 42 targeted properties given to city departments to focus upon and act.

The results were: 24 streets impacted; 15 violations abated; 14 issues sent to the magistrate; $1,000 in fines levied; and five clean-ups and liens completed.

“It hasn’t ended in Carrick,” Mr. Gittlen said.

The next steps include a quality-of-life manager, court hearings, and sustained involvement from city departments.

“We’re doing the Oakwatch kind of model now with ten problem areas,” he said.

Oakwatch is a public safety/code compliance initiative in Oakland that brings residents and groups together to identify code violations, advocate for remediation, and monitor the outcomes.

Oakwatch compiles a report in which the worst violations/properties are prioritized, and then targeted for code compliance.

The neighborhood’s quality of life is then improved by enforcing codes on negligent property owners, housing and parking violations, disruptive behavior, underage drinking, and more.

“Tonight, we start by listening,” Mayor Peduto said.

He asked attendees to write down problem sites, after which a priority list will be compiled.

To a question of whether an abandoned lot can be cleaned, the response was that permission is required.  If a priority, the property owner will be given 60 days to clean, after which the city will do so.

But the property owner will be charged for the work the city does, the mayor said.

As a first step in the blitz process, attendees were asked to write down and submit the addresses of problem properties and their violations.

Mr. Gittlen said that by the end of May, the city will match the properties with 311 and 911 data.  A decision will then be made on which properties to focus on.

An example of a problem property in Carrick was shopping center on Brownsville Rd., which had public safety issues like overgrowths, but which have since been resolved.

Anyone who was not present at the Knoxville meeting, and would like

to participate, should email him the addresses/violations of problem properties to: grant.gittlen@pittsburghpa.gov.

The next KCC forum will be at 6 p.m. on July 13 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 601 Brownsville Rd.

 

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