South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Pets, stolen packages, quality-of-life issues discussed at Zone 3


The June Zone 3 Public Safety Council meeting began with a reminder from crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey to make sure pets have plenty of water and are protected from the sun in extreme summer temperatures.

She is currently filing charges against an owner who left the family dog outdoors without water and without shelter from the sun.

An attendee told of an experience they had recently concerning a UPS box that was delivered and, because no one was home, left on the porch of a South Side home. Thieves stole the contents, leaving the empty box. The attendee said a woman was observed walking around the neighborhood dressed similar to a mail carrier, perhaps to avoid suspicion, making it easier to steal packages.

Another attendee said he went to the South Side post office to pick up a package, and the postal clerk told him that there were 32 reports of stolen packages in June of USPS, UPS, and FedEx deliveries.

Officer Luffey said these crimes are federal offenses, and anyone who observes suspicious behavior regarding unattended packages should call 911.

Next, Lt. Larry Scirotto discussed an initiative begun last year by Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly called quality-of-life patrols. He said he volunteered to spearhead this year's effort to which about 20 officers have been assigned.

The police officer is asking Zone 3 community groups, such as block watches, to choose three troublesome areas in their neighborhoods, and he will address the problems in each area. If a group sends him eight priorities, he will still address only three of them.

Lt. Scirotto called it "pro-active enforcement" to "take back some of these neighborhoods."

"The goal is how can we affect multiple communities in a short period of time," he said.

The officers will be on foot patrol. Surveillance, arrests, and undercover work is also involved. There will be zero tolerance for any criminal activity, including littering, parking, and loitering.

Officer Luffey said residents near Phillips Park are very happy "so it's working."

Lt. Scirotto said there would be sporadic enforcement as surprise is an important element in the program.

"We don't want to be predictable," he said.

An attendee said she was talking to a business woman in the 2600 block of Brownsville Rd. who was pleased to see a nearby officer.

"This endeavor is fluid," Lt. Scirotto said, explaining if a neighborhood's top three priorities change, they can be removed from the list and new ones added.

Commander McNeilly shared her idea for a "virtual" block watch, which involves a community group stationing four cameras strategically on each end of a block watch area.

The security camera would automatically record a photo or video each time movement is detected. Such cameras can be bought for about $150. Commander McNeilly said residents would have to purchase themselves, and the police provide advice about positioning them.

If someone takes a package from a porch, the tape could be given to police to examine. The local evening news could also run it. Such a scenario would not be violating anyone's rights, she said.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said a camera erected by an individual will not face the same legal challenges as if the government puts it up. Different criteria apply depending on who has ownership of the camera, he said.

"This is another thing you can add to make your home safe," Commander McNeilly said.

On another topic, Mr. Kraus said the owners of District Three, 2009 E. Carson St. in South Side, agreed to close the nightclub and sell or transfer their liquor license after a man who shot there over the weekend.

Formerly called Town Tavern, the establishment was on the nuisance bar watch list at least six years, he said.

Mr. Kraus also said the new police tactic of turning on their vehicles' sirens to disperse crowds after the bars close seems to be working for crowd control on the South Side.

Another Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) conference will be held here in July. It will include officials from cities which have had success in managing entertainment areas like the South Side. The non-profit RHI's approach is communication, cooperation, consensus, commitment, and collaboration among stakeholders.

The three main topics to be focused on will be chronic over-service, occupancy enforcement, and a realistic transportation management plan.

"No one is served by what's taking place there," he said of the neighborhood.

Commander McNeilly said starting the July 29 weekend, off-duty police officers who work as security guards on weekends at South Side bars will have their stay extended until 3 a.m. to deal with crowd dispersal.

Crowd-control had been largely conducted by on-duty officers. The change will free up the officers for other Zone 3 neighborhoods.

"We spend so many resources dealing with the chaos of South Side every weekend, when the rest of the district is neglected.

"But we cannot ignore other neighborhoods every weekend," Commander McNeilly said.

The evening's final discussion was about dog bites on youngsters. At Children's Hospital, Mr. Kraus saw images of an infant with his chin bitten off, and of children with altered faces. All occurred in the home with the family dog.

The doctors asked the city's help in getting the message out that there are times when dogs and kids don't mix.

Officer Luffey said 90 percent of the people she asks for their dog's license and proof of rabies vaccination don't have them, and so she issues a citation.

There must be responsible pet ownership, she said.


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