South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

311 director explains what center does, councilman calls for action on Zone 3


The 311non-emergency telephone response line provided by the city was the main item on the agenda of the Knoxville 30th Ward Block Watch meeting June 30.

Wendy Urbanic, director of the 311 operations center, explained to the residents at the meeting at Trinity Lutheran Church, about the many options they have in getting various city services to respond to their needs.

"Tell us your request and we will get it to the appropriate department," Mrs. Urbanic said.

The difference between calling 911 and 311 is this.

"911 is when you need the police [or EMS, fire fighters] to come to your house immediately," she said.

The 311 service is for when you need nuisance problems addressed in the neighborhood concerning public health, safety and welfare for things like abandoned cars and neglected and/or abandoned properties.

The 311 service is somewhat related to public safety and it was this issue that took center stage at the meeting when District 3 councilman Bruce Kraus addressed the block watch group.

Mr. Kraus drew the spotlight after Mrs. Urbanic's presentation when he expressed his frustration over the constant revolving door regarding the management/leadership of public safety.

Mr. Kraus, council's chairman of pubic safety, along with several long-time Knoxville residents, voiced their concern over a new commander being recently appointed for the sixth time in seven years for Zone 3, based on 18th Street on the South Side Flats.

 "This is about leadership and management from the top [going] down," Mr. Kraus said.

"We need letters written and phone calls made [by the District 3 constituents] because there are real problems that need to be addressed."

Zone 3's jurisdiction encompasses all city neighborhoods south of the Monongahela River, east of Route 51 and west of Route 885. The zone also includes Brookline, Beechview, Overbrook (all west of Rt. 51) and Mount Washington which were not part of the zone territory prior to Sept., 2003.

Zone 3 currently has a staff of 71 people assigned to the station compared to 109 in 2003, meaning there has been a reduction of 35 percent while the police are covering about 33 percent more geographic territory than five years ago.

"I know there are budgetary reasons to consider, but I know we can do better," Mr. Kraus said. "I feel it is my duty and obligation to address these issues pro-actively."

Management officer Catherine McNeilly took over as commander of Zone 3 on May 26, replacing Larry Ross who had served as this zone's commander since Jan. 2007. Prior to Commander Ross, who has been reassigned to Zone 5 in East Liberty, RaShall Brackney had served as Zone 3 commander from Jan. 2006 through Jan. 2007.

Prior to that, William Joyce was the commander for the South Hilltop/South Side area for two years which is the only time the leadership of the zone has gone beyond 16 months for any police officer since 2001.

The latest transfer of commanders in the city police hierarchy involved all three veteran officers. Commander Brackney was transferred to Zone 1 on the North Side from Zone 5 and Commander McNeilly had been commander at Zone 1 prior to her transfer to the South Side.

"Gun violence is out of control throughout the city, especially on the Hilltop," Mr. Kraus said. "Public safety is a top priority."

The biggest concern with Commander McNeilly assuming command at the South Side station is her recently taking a five-week vacation that is not scheduled to end until July 21, according to Councilman Kraus.

Another concern expressed by the residents at the meeting is the rumor that the plans to retire in November. Mr. Kraus said he recently had almost a three-hour meeting with the commander who told him that she does not plan to retire in the immediate future.

"We had a very frank discussion," said Mr. Kraus, noting that he and the commander were "up front and open" about their feelings on how the police should do their job in Zone 3, but the councilman was reluctant to go into any specific details about their meeting.

Mr. Kraus said he wished he could have Commander Brackney running Zone 3 again while others in the audience preferred Commander Ross' and his style of law enforcement.

Mr. Kraus reiterated that regardless of who is in charge of Zone 3, he said there needs to be more stability in the staff so that long-term relationships can be built between the public safety officials and the residents.


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