South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Jennifer Szweda Jordan
Contributing Writer 

Police recommend 'virtual' block watch in Carrick

Goal is to cover the whole neighborhood with cameras


Last updated 8/11/2014 at 5:23pm

Jennifer Szweda Jordan

Zone 3 Lt. Larry Scirotto, Liz Style, coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety's SaferTogether program and Officer Christine Luffey were the featured speakers at the Carrick-Overbrook Block Watch meeting. Lt. Scirotto explained the benefits of using a 'virtual block watch' utilizing existing video cameras in a neighborhood.

While Block Watch groups have relied on neighbors' eyes and ears to deter crime, Pittsburgh police are now asking Carrick-Overbrook residents to pilot a virtual block watch by mounting home surveillance cameras and computer monitoring systems.

"If we can be successful here, then we can push this program out to all of the other block watches in our unit, and then citywide," Lt. Larry Scirotto said at the Aug. 4 Carrick-Overbrook Block Watch meeting. 

The virtual block watch, Lt. Scirotto said, is an attempt to answer, "How do we come up with another solution to ensure that we are capable of protecting our communities when policing resources may not be at a level that's capable of doing that in all of our neighborhoods?"

Lt. Scirotto said a long-term goal would be for the community to use the cameras to maintain video coverage of the entire neighborhood. This is not funded by the city so residents who want to participate would have to buy the equipment, which he said can cost as much as $4,000 or as little as what he uses at his Mt. Washington home--approximately $250.

"If you have the financial means to purchase system, what we're gonna do is we're gonna log your residence, your home," he said, to establish a map showing how much of the community is covered by one or more cameras.

After a crime occurs, police might call a resident with a nearby camera and ask, "Would you mind reviewing your footage and see if you captured this incident at this time?" Lt. Scirotto explained.

At the meeting, the lieutenant showed off one style of camera system and also demonstrated how it feeds the images filmed around his home onto the screen of his iPad electronic tablet. He said camera surveillance has been floated before as an option for the community, but now the technology has progressed so the cost has dropped and image capture technology has improved in visual clarity.

 Carrick-Overbrook Block Watch, Lt. Scirotto said, has the most active citizen participation, so the police department will see how cameras are embraced here.

 "Are these systems going to eliminate crime? No," he said. "But it's going to make people think about what they're willing--what risk they're willing to go to be a perpetrator." 

Some residents asked Lt. Scirotto about whether private camera owners would face litigation from people they filmed. To avoid legal action, cameras should be directed at publicly visible sites to avoid legal action, and not trained on, say, a neighbor's bedroom, he added with a laugh.

Dan Barrett, community relations manager for Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, was more measured on this point. 

"This is why we see it as, initially, a reason to roll out cameras on main streets," Mr. Barrett said. 

But Lt. Scirotto told the crowd, "As a citizen, you are capable of capturing anything you so long as it's in public space." 

In other Block Watch news, Community Police Officer Christine Luffey had the floor for about 30 minutes. During that time, she updated residents on the following: 

- Twenty-seven-year-old Christopher Thomas faces criminal charges in the death of 31-year-old David Calhoun and other crimes related to a July home invasion on Merritt Avenue.

- She's working with a landlord to push the eviction of renters who are causing trouble. This drew questions about what would prevent the family from moving elsewhere. Nothing, Officer Luffey said.

"There's no way to ID them as a public nuisance," she said. "Housing is a booming business. There's nothing you can do."

- One senior citizen asked Officer Luffey and Lt Scirotto if adults could physically defend themselves if abused by minors. Both officers said anyone of any age can protect themselves but, Lt. Scirotto added, "If you react and that behavior is inappropriate, you put yourself subject to criminal law."

In events news, John Rudiak, from Carrick Community Council, said the Saturday, Aug. 23 Cornfest is emerging with an animal theme. There will be rabbit wranglers, free kittens, pet grooming gift certificates, and more. The Bhutanese/Nepalese will provide dancing entertainment again.

"I always say, 'Come for the food, stay for the music,'" he said. Several churches are participating, including Zion, which will offer smoothies.

"We like having a lot of church people because they pray for no rain," Mr. Rudiak said. The event takes place from 12-6 p.m. in Phillips Park. 


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