South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Police Chief McLay addresses residents at Zone 3 meeting

 


A Zone 3 town hall meeting with city police Chief Cameron McLay and other police officials drew about 70 people to the IBEW Hall in South Side on Aug. 24.

Chief McLay said the purpose of the meeting was to acquire feedback on “how Pittsburgh police can serve you a little bit better.”

Agenda topics included sharing public safety concerns; reviewing crime statistics; providing feedback on community-police relations; and telling the police how they can better serve the community.

The meeting began with Ken Wolfe, president of the Zone 3 public safety council, informing attendees the group meets every third Monday at 6 p.m., and usually at the Zone 3 police station.

The next meeting on Sept. 19 will be held at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Knoxville branch, which recently reopened after closing for a year for $3.5 million in renovations.

A city-wide public safety council meeting will be held on Oct. 19.

The opening presentation was about Zone 3 crime statistics from the police bureau’s Criminal Intelligence Unit. Among the findings was that Part 1 crimes, which include murder, robbery, assault, arson, and more, occur most often in June, July, and August, and the least in February.

Part 1 crimes are most likely to occur in Zone 3 from midnight to 1 a.m. on Saturday evening/Sunday morning. Most shootings occur about 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Shooting hotspots include Brownsville Rd. in Carrick, and in Allentown.

Most of the calls for shots fired are in Allentown, Knoxville, and Beltzhoover.

Vehicle theft hotspots the past five years have been in the South Side Flats, with most occurring with the doors unlocked and motor running.

Chief McLay said open data, and accessibility to residents about what is happening in their neighborhoods, is very important. The public should go to the Pittsburgh police website, http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/police/, for links to crime statistics and data.

“Using data is integral to what we do,” he said.

To an attendee’s question to Zone 3 police Commander Karen Dixon about the numbers of officers per shift, Chief McLay said she did not know that number as the allotment among all of the zones has not yet been set.

To a question about hotspots, Commander Dixon said the numbers, as reflected in 911 calls, help her decide where to send resources. In Mt. Washington, for instance, she asked residents to call 911 when there was trouble, and they did. She could then determine where crime was occurring most often, and respond accordingly.

An attendee commented residents should be told of the hotspots so they can become the police department’s “eyes and ears,” to which the chief agreed.

A Bon Air resident commented she has profound hearing loss, and carries a gun for protection. Chief McLay said the city is working through “Welcoming Pittsburgh” for interpretation services, and the police undergo training regarding such issues.

Next, a moderator read questions directed at police personnel.

To a question about the force’s relationship with the Mt. Oliver Police Department, the commander said there is “very good interaction with them,” as each department backs up the other.

To a question of any prohibition against overnight camping in city parks, the commander said yes, and violators in South Side were moved by the police.

Questioned whether panhandlers can be arrested for loitering, Commander Dixon said a recent court decision deemed panhandling as legal, but that panhandlers could not harass passersby. So, the conduct can be regulated but not the time or place of the panhandling.

If a panhandler is blocking a bus as an example, the police can ask the person to leave.

“We have to understand that the U.S. Constitution comes first,” the chief said. But the police will do what they can within the constraints of the law when it comes to this situation.

To a question about what to do when hearing shots in Knoxville during robberies in the middle of the night, Commander Dixon said to call 911. If the caller does not want to be identified, they should tell the dispatcher to not use their name.

Witnesses may also call the Investigations branch at 412-323-7800.

Regarding group violence, a police official said less than five percent of the population is causing all of the problems. She said the main objective when dealing with this group is to reach out to them “and guide in the right direction” with the focus of “stopping the violence.”

In the case of young offenders, they will be prosecuted, with some group members saved “who are worth saving,” she said.

Chief McLay called it “violence intervention.”

To a question about efforts to hire more blacks and women, he said hiring is done through the Dept. of Civil Service. While he can improve community relations and stimulate interest in joining the force, he does not have a lot of autonomy in hiring.

An attendee commented diversity is not enough, but any new hires must be qualified, to which the chief agreed.

He said he needs help with his recruitment. He would like to have community partners, especially in talking with young people.

Regarding the Pittsburgh Citizen’s Police Academy, Sgt. Eric Kroll said it will start on Sept. 13 at Carrick High School.

The free academy offers a behind-the-scenes look at what police do, like how fingerprints are taken, and touring the 911 center.

Participants are also taught the basics of criminal law, search and seizure, patrol tactics, firearms, and more.

For more information, email: eric.kroll@pittsburghpa.gov .

To a question about the level of drug problems in the city, there is an opioid epidemic, and heroin usage is big today. Intervention is done through a task force that investigates drug deaths.

 

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