Common sense advice offered to help prevent thefts for homes, cars


Last updated 2/12/2013 at 11:35am

“Cell phones, laptops, cameras, jewelry, money—absolutely anything with value.”

When Zone 3 Police Officer Christine Luffey iterated these items last week, she wasn’t compiling a personal wish list. She was telling the audience at the Carrick-Overbrook Block Watch the types of things reported stolen from parked vehicles in the city.

“You’d be amazed by the number of calls we get each month from citizens who’ve had something stolen from their cars,” said Officer Luffey. “But it all could be prevented if people followed two very simple rules.

“Do not leave valuables in your car,” she instructed. “And if you have to leave something in there, put it out of sight, and make sure your car is locked.”

Removing valuables from your car, Officer Luffey went on to explain, makes it a less likely target for criminals. Locking the doors, she said, makes it harder for criminals to get your goods, or your car itself.

Liz Style, from the Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, joined Officer Luffey in her common sense appeal, and passed out vehicle theft flyers for block watch members to post and distribute throughout their communities.

Leaving the topic of theft, Ms. Style offered another appeal—for the beautification of city neighborhoods.

As part of the Mayor’s ServePGH initiative, the Love Your Block program offers grants of up to $1,000 to neighbors who want to spearhead a local block improvement, she said.

Offered twice a year, the grant funds improvements and beautifications including, but not limited to, community clean up and waste management, urban garden projects, community signage and flower plots, and just about anything else residents can think of to make their blocks more appealing, safe and inviting.

The grant is funded by Home Depot and the Bloomberg Foundation. Applications for late-spring and early-summer projects are due by Feb. 14. Interested parties should contact Ms. Style at 412-255-2626 for details on the application process.

Another call, for fall projects, will be put out later this year.

Continuing with the theme of neighborhood improvement, on hand at the meeting were representatives from Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak’s office and the team conducting the ongoing safety assessment of Brownsville Road.

Survey forms were distributed at the meeting, asking residents to provide feedback on Brownsville Road corridor safety matters such as intersection dangers, lighting issues, hazardousness to children, and causes and frequency of crime.

Results from the survey will be organized and analyzed in order to make recommendations for tangible options on the what, where and how to make Brownsville Road a safer street.

Another area the councilwoman’s office is trying to tackle is the problem of a blanket investment company pursuing hilltop properties. The company operates under several different names, including Realty Choice, buying local properties, turning them around in 24 to 48 hours and selling them to foreign investors for twice the value.

The investment company then serves as the management company for the out-of-country property owners, resulting in a situation which confounds accountability and makes it harder for local officials to crack down on code violations and tenant issues.

Councilwoman Rudiak’s office is working with the District Attorney’s office and other parties to take legal action against the blanket company, to prevent and/or remedy its unlawful practices.

One of the most troublesome of its practices, said a representative from Ms. Rudiak’s office, is the management prong of the company does not properly screen potential tenants.

Since bad tenants can make bad neighbors, this tied in to a series of concerns residents presented to Officer Luffey.

Although many in attendance applauded the work of Luffey and her police brethren at responding to nuisance, loitering and suspicious activity complaints, and numerous concerns were raised about persistent, repeated patterns of unsettling behavior in the Carrick and Overbrook communities.

From speculations regarding drug activity to grievances of noise disturbance and after-dark lurking, residents requested a greater police presence in their neighborhoods and asked for tips on what to do in these types of situations.

Officer Luffey reminded those with issues to call the police whenever they feel unease.

“We’re here to help you,” she said. “We will respond—but only if you call.”

One resident mentioned he does call the police when he perceives malfeasance, only to have the offender(s) flee right before the police arrive, because, he postulated, “a lot of them have scanners these days.”

To stay one step ahead of the bad guys and gals, Officer Luffey provided a possible solution: “When you call 9-1-1, tell the operator Officer Luffey spoke at your block watch and told you to ask for a closed channel.”

By so doing, said Officer Luffey, the call will be sent over a secure line that most scanners can’t pick up, and the criminal won’t get the heads up and will likely still be on-scene when the police arrive.

Also discussed at Monday’s meeting were public school updates, provided by education committee liaison Cindy Falls.

Ms. Falls provided a handout covering notes from the most recent PSCC meetings at Pittsburgh Roosevelt, Pittsburgh Concord School, Pittsburgh South Brook School and Pittsburgh Carrick High School.

The handout highlighted updates on school info and upcoming events. In sum, Ms. Falls explained the schools have assessed their relative strengths and weaknesses and are each working on progress in areas like school safety, attendance, best practices and student appreciation.

“If you have kids,” Ms. Falls elaborated, “you need to look at all the schools in the area, from kindergarten to high school, because schooling is the bridge that brings us all together.

“Education should be a priority, something we make the best we can so that our kids will want to stay here, to live here, work here and raise their own families here.

“We need to give our all to them, so that one day they can give their all back.”

With this, Ms. Falls encouraged parents to attend as many PSCC meetings as possible, to learn about and help cultivate the school their children currently attend as well as the school they might attend.

One school which kids won’t be attending is the former Overbrook Middle School, which is closed. Once serving the young, the lot and field will soon serve the elderly.

According to Councilwoman Rudiak’s office, the property has been purchased by a company which will turn it into a senior citizen residential facility, slated to open some time in 2014.

“It’s a $25 million project,” said Ms. Rudiak’s rep, “that will generate not only new housing for dozens of senior citizens but also approximately 100 new jobs.”

For more information on these, and other, neighborhood matters, residents of the Carrick and Overbrook communities are welcome to attend Carrick-Overbrook block watch meetings, held the at 7 p.m. the first Monday of each month at Concord Elementary School, 2350 Brownsville Road.


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