South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Zone 3 Public Safety Committee travels to Mount Washington


The senior center on Virginia Ave. in Mt. Washington was the site of the July 20 Zone 3 Public Safety Council monthly meeting.

Among the guests were city council members Bruce Kraus and Theresa Kail-Smith; Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly; and crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey.

Ken Wolfe, public safety council president, said the meeting had the second largest turnout of the traveling public safety meetings, after Carrick.

For community messages and the latest police alerts, he suggested attendees visit the community safety website, safety.htm .

While one has to register to receive alerts, tips can be submitted anonymously without signing up.

Officer Luffey said a community meeting she attended earlier in the week in Carrick attracted 120 residents. Its goal is to establish a block watch on every street in the neighborhood.

She also said it's important to report crime to 911, and call 311 for non-emergency issues. "Quality of life issues matter," she said of the 311 calls.

She hopes pet owners remember to provide water and shelter and to keep animals cool. Do not leave them in hot cars even with windows down a bit.

Questioned about a recent rash of car break-ins in Mt. Washington, a detective said since a majority of the crimes didn't have window damage, he suspects they were left unlocked.

He said because costly items like GPS systems were not stolen, but glove compartments were ransacked, the thieves are probably juveniles.

A resident said seven of the eight robberies she was aware of were committed in the middle of the night and for unknown reasons, the car alarms did not sound. She wondered if the cars could be checked for fingerprints.

The detective said prints have to be run through the system. If the thief is a juvenile who was never in trouble, the prints will not be on file.

An attendee asked what neighbors should do when they are sitting outside and see potential thieves checking car doors to find an unlocked one.

The detective said to call 911 and give a description of the people observed at the vehicles.

A woman who works in Ms. Kail-Smith's office said 311 calls are also important to make as resources can then be directed to the problem.

An attendee asked if there is a way to get an officer into the neighborhood faster after a 911 call.

Officer Luffey said the force is stretched thin, and this is their busiest season.

"We're doing our very best," she said.

Another officer in attendance, who drives an unmarked car, said a huge problem in Mt. Washington is it is a transient area. Drugs and robberies are a particular problem.

An attendee said he witnessed five drug deals in two hours in the neighborhood from his home, and wrote down the license plate information. The officer said he would talk to him after the meeting.

Another attendee said while residents call 911, and the police respond, it is the judges who don't do their jobs by not locking up criminals. The detective said he arrested a woman for her 22

nd retail theft, and she was sentenced to mere probation.

Mr. Kraus addressed the room, saying he hears a lot of complaints about the impact in other neighborhoods of so many officers called to the Carson St. corridor in South Side on weekends.

Mr. Kraus said police staffing levels are not adequate, and that the bar saturation on the South Side is "bleeding your public services dry."

While everyone — local, city, and state officials — agree it is a problem, the issue gets nowhere.

The South Side has about 161 liquor licenses, which attracts about 22,500 patrons on weekend evenings. There will never be enough officers to handle all the problems that ensue, he said.

Riding around with an officer on St. Patrick's Day for four hours there was a "ticker tape of calls," he said.

Mr. Kraus said council unanimously allocated $100,000 in November to bring the Responsible Hospitality Institute to Pittsburgh to deal with the effects of the South Side bar saturation.

The non-profit RHI promotes cooperation among those involved in hospitality, safety, and community development groups. It will also make recommendations on managing nightlife city-wide and not just in South Side.

But the mayor will not sign the legislation to spend the money. He said residents need to contact the mayor's office and insist that he sign.

"The sooner we bring in the professionals, the sooner we get a handle on this," he said.

State help is also needed; state resources could be managing the alcohol situation. "We are in crisis mode," he said.

An attendee commented Mt. Washington is also in a crisis, and in need of officers, cameras, and more.

Another attendee said drug dealing occurs every night on Virginia Avenue in the vicinity of a convenience store, and officers merely have to park in a strategic spot and watch.

An officer said they cannot arrest someone without a specific reason. But for all the drug dealers he has arrested, he has never seen any serve more than two years although 15 years is mandatory on the books.

Another officer said if drug dealers spot them or their vehicles, they take off.

Mr. Wolfe said it is the mayor and the chief of police who make the major decisions in the police department.

Gabriel Mazefsky, the policy manager in the Mayor's Office, said his father moved back to Mt. Washington a month ago. When he called his son at 2 a.m. wondering if the loud bursts of noise he heard were fireworks, his son said they were probably gunshots.

Mr. Mazefsky said the mayor decides priorities. Since the mayor is trying to put more officers on the streets to deal with priorities, he will likely not sign the RHI legislation.

"We're working on a very limited budget. At the end of the day, we need to do a better job of prioritizing problems," he said.

A Mt. Washington resident commented she sees the link between the South Side problems and lack of officers in her neighborhood.

Commander McNeilly said 911 calls are prioritized. If a call comes in that is non-priority, it will wait if cars are tied up.

Ms. Kail-Smith, council's Public Safety chairwoman, expressed concern Mt. Washington is not receiving the police attention it warrants due to 911 calls elsewhere. She suggested a meeting with officials.

Commander McNeilly said prioritizing 911 calls is the procedure throughout the city.

"When there is a priority up here, we cover here," she said of Mt. Washington.

In informational items, the 28

th Annual National Night Out will be held on Aug. 2.

The city sponsors two citizens' academies: the Civic Leadership Academy that begins Sept. 14; and the Citizen's Police Academy that begins Sept. 12. Classes are held evenings.

More information, including registration, can be found on the city's website: .

There will be no August meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council. The next meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 29 in the Potter's House Multi-Education Building, 430 Cathedral Ave., in Mt. Oliver City.


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