South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Move the Box, safety issues at Z-3 council


October 4, 2011

The Zone 3 Public Safety Council meeting of Sept. 28 featured discussion on Grandview Park vandalism, tinted car windows, mental health, and a brief presentation on the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project (FCCP).

Dean Williams, FCCP's director, said he was advised by city council to educate people on the "Move the Box" campaign.

Once former convicts have done their time, and seek a job, they must check the box on the first page of job applications for those with criminal records. The checked box dooms the application, he said, regardless if the offense occurred 25 years ago.

"The issue is everyone is lumped in the same category," he said of repeat offenders, and those who made bad decisions decades ago but have turned their lives around.

The legislation the FCCP is promoting, Mr. Williams said, is moving the box to the end of the application process after the prospective employer has had a chance to interview and consider the applicant as he would someone without a prior conviction.

While employers can ultimately hire whoever they want, moving the box allows them to evaluate the entire person based on who they are today. Criminal backgrounds would then surface during background checks.

"There's a lot of us out here," he said, stating there are over 100,000 Allegheny County residents with criminal convictions.

Mr. Williams said he wants to help former convicts who have been living upright lives for years, like himself, without suffering the consequences of youthful bad choices for the rest of their lives.

"I made mistakes," said Mr. Williams, who served prison time for drug-related offenses. "I thank God for what he has done for me."

"The only way back on track is to have an opportunity," he said.

Mr. Williams circulated a petition for support of the campaign. Once the legislation is enacted in the city, he plans to lobby at the county and state levels.

The meeting began with an attendee asking for details on gunshots fired in an alley near Valera Ave. in Carrick.

Crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey, who attended the meeting along with Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly, said she could not locate a police report on the incident.

But regarding Carrick, she said the officers assigned to the community "are amazing."

"They are making a good amount of arrests. They are fighting the war on drugs," she said.

An attendee complained about vandals who rip out plants and destroy trees in Grandview Park. He pointed to the large numbers of children who loiter in the park.

Another attendee said he has seen children lying on Bailey Ave. outside Grandview Park on the Mt. Washington/Allentown border.

The youngsters, ages 6 to 14, run back and forth to see if they can beat the cars. Meanwhile, the road has a fast, blind bend, making the play extremely dangerous. He said the children run in front of the cars after school until bedtime.

"This could be very tragic," said Officer Luffey.

She told attendees to call 911 when they witness such activity adding callers may remain anonymous.

When the witness was asked why he did not call 911, he said he feared retaliation if it was revealed he called police.

"We don't divulge who calls," said Officer Luffey.

When the attendee said he has seen children as young as age 3 participating in the play on Bailey Ave., Commander McNeilly said following a 911 call the police would investigate the caregiving matter.

To a question about heavily tinted windows on cars, Commander McNeilly said it is only a matter of time before the vehicle is stopped.

She explained even if the vehicle is ticketed, the driver could have the vehicle back on the road.

"We do what we are allowed to do...we all live within the constraints set upon us," she said.

Questioned if the driver can be arrested if he is repeatedly fined for tinted windows, the commander said no.

A Beltzhoover resident asked about surveillance by undercover police officers. Officer Luffey said there are undercover officers throughout the Hilltop.

"We are out there trying to keep these areas safe," she said.

An attendee suggested police carry metal detectors.

"What you think we should be able to do, you would not like being done to you. We have to do our jobs without violating someone's constitutional rights," said Commander McNeilly.

An attendee asked about the presence of the SWAT team in Mt. Washington, resulting in the arrest of someone who was high and firing a gun.

Commander McNeilly said since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, people in the U.S. are "suspicious and scared."

Prior to 9/11, if a bag was found on the street, for instance, an officer would respond. Today, the response is the SWAT team.

"We are a lot more careful," she said.

In response to discussion about the apparent increase in bizarre behavior among the public, Commander McNeilly said "more and more people have a problem with mental issues" as "there is not enough help out there."

She said when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago, she did not know what was happening. As a result, she went from confident to vulnerable.

"It happened so fast, so I have a lot of sympathy and compassion and empathy for them and their families," she said of those with mental issues.

"Sometimes we have so much to be grateful for and don't know it," she said.

In announcements, Liz Style of the Mayor's Office said Halloween will be celebrated in the city on Oct. 31 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

In other news, a person can nominate themselves or someone else for the mayor's Citizen Service Award. The award honors individuals and organizations that demonstrate a strong commitment to addressing local challenges and improving the quality of life in the city.

For more information, visit:

Ms. Styles distributed brochures on the difference between calling 911 and 311: in general, 911 should be called anytime you see or hear a crime happening; 311 should be called to report any on-going problems or suspected crime.

She gave details about the seminar, "Welcome to Oz – Where Small Business and Sustainability Collide," will be held on Oct. 10 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Fairmont Hotel.

Its purpose is to educate and empower business owners. The fee is $20 for the seminar.


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