South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Block watch members learn how surveillance cameras can help


September 18, 2012

Video surveillance cameras, block watch kits, and free Thanksgiving meals for those without meals on the holiday were among the topics at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Carrick/Overbrook block watch.

The guest speakers were police Lieutenant Larry Scirotto and crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey.

Carol Anthony, who conducted the meeting, began by noting the July 25 "Communities Against Crime" event, designed to show community support in the face of drug dealing and other crimes that impact the neighborhood's quality of life, was a success.

The support shown by businesses was especially noteworthy, she said. The event will probably be held again next year.

Lt. Scirotto discussed the quality-of-life patrols in which officers are on foot patrol to show a presence in troublesome areas in neighborhoods. Surveillance, arrests, and undercover work is also involved.

Visibility is stressed in quality-of-life patrols.

There is also zero tolerance for any criminal activity during patrols, including littering, parking, and loitering.

To a question about using video surveillance in conjunction with a block watch, he said a home needs internet access for the surveillance. The camera can then be put within 20 feet of the house, and monitored.

A community group could station 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.

Residents would have to purchase themselves, and the police provide advice. Prices range from $160 to $400 depending on the capabilities.

If everyone pitches in, and the cameras are rotated on different sites, everyone benefits, he said.

If a crime is committed in the area, the tape could be given to police to look at. A camera erected by an individual will not face the same legal challenges as the government.

Different criteria apply depending on who has ownership of the camera.

Once a plan is developed for such a camera program, it will be presented to the block watches.

He hopes cameras are up and running by spring.

Stationary cameras are being used elsewhere. However, they are not good in residential areas because they only take still pictures.

An attendee commented that when someone calls 911, they should let the dispatcher know if the people they are calling about have police scanners. If the dispatcher comments, "don't tell me how to do my job," ask to speak with a supervisor.

Questioned about ATVs and dirt bikes, Lt. Scirotto said they are not permitted on streets.

To a question about when the quality-of-life patrols will end, he said he will continue with them until told to stop.

"This was her baby," he said of Commander McNeilly, whose idea it was. "It's here to stay."

In August, 284 quality-of-life patrols were conducted in troublesome spots, with more than 100 in the surrounding area.

In her brief comments, Liz Style of the Mayor's Office told attendees to keep doing what they are doing: calling 911, and the city's phone number for non-emergency services, which is 311.

If you do not get a satisfactory response, ask to talk to a supervisor, as mentioned earlier in the meeting.

She reported the next Zone 3 Public Safety Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Zone 3 police station, corner of Arlington and East Warrington avenues in Allentown.

The city-wide Public Safety meeting will be on Oct. 17 at a site to be determined.

The "Block Watch in a Box" tool kit is now available, containing all the information one needs to start or strengthen a block watch. The information includes resources like neighborhood and public safety partners, city departments' phone numbers, funding opportunities, suggested meeting agendas, and more.

The block watch kit can be found at:

Crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey reported she and Kathy Hecker of the Western Pa. Humane Society recently removed 17 cats from a home on Transverse St. in Carrick that was in deplorable condition.

Of those 17 cats, nine were sent to the Humane Society, and the rest to Animal Friends' no-kill shelter. Many of the cats may have feline leukemia, which spreads quickly.

Officer Luffey said she was glad Transverse neighbors reported the home and its odors.

"You could smell this house a block away," she said.

The city limit on pets in a home is five.

Officer Luffey said while the woman living in the Transverse home considered herself a rescuer, she was not one. A rescuer provides proper nutrition and has the animals neutered. There were four unspayed female cats in the home, resulting in numerous litters.

To a question of whether there is a city ordinance regarding cats running loose, she said cats must have a collar and ID tag.

If a roaming cat becomes a nuisance for neighbors, she said to talk first with the owner. If nothing changes, you can catch the cat with a trap borrowed from Animal Control. Personnel from the department will then take the animal to their facility.

In other news, this will be Officer Luffey's fifth year organizing the delivery of free, warm meals on Thanksgiving Day by city police officers to apartments, high rises, and houses in Zone 3 and Zone 6 communities.

Its purpose is to ensure that no residents of South Side and the surrounding communities go without Thanksgiving dinner. There are no income or age requirements.

Volunteers are also needed to prepare and package food. More details will follow as they become available.

"It makes you feel how lucky and blessed you are," she said of serving the needy.

The next Carrick/Overbrook Block Watch meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Oct. 1 in the Pittsburgh Concord K-5 auditorium.


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