Chief McLay speaks to Z-3 safety council about police matters
New police Chief Cameron McLay was one of the discussants at a packed January 21 meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council.
Other officers in attendance included Zone 3 commander designate Larry Scirotto, crime prevention Officer Christine Luffey, and two narcotics task force detectives.
It began with a South Side resident complaining about hunters and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in South Side Park, where the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA) is working on installing trails and more.
Public safety council president Ken Wolfe added there is also hunting in Grandview Park and Duquesne Heights.
Officer Luffey said she learned years ago state laws supersede city ordinances. While hunting within the city limits is not illegal -- as long as the hunter is at least 50 yards from structures or yards – hunting in a city park is illegal.
Mr. Wolfe said to call 911 when hunters are seen inside a park.
A Carrick resident said she spotted 10 ATVs and dirt bikes been ridden inside Birmingham Cemetery. Once while a funeral was in progress with the Bishop present.
Chief McLay said existing laws can be looked at, as can state laws, regarding this problem. City ordinances could also be expanded upon.
The resident also said she sees the vehicles riding on acreage overlooking Glass Run and Becks Run roads.
Mr. Wolfe said ATVs and dirt bikes are permitted on private property.
Commander Scirotto said motorized vehicles are not permitted in parks.
The police can tow and cite the vehicles after enacting the vehicle code of requiring a license, registration, etc.
On another topic, a South Side Flats resident said he had cameras installed which capture a lot of illegal activity from 3 to 5 a.m. on Carson St. side streets.
Commander Scirotto said his project -- a virtual block watch pilot program -- adds video surveillance cameras to the traditional block watch as a method of crime prevention.
It involves a few neighbors chipping in to purchase and install a camera system to capture crimes on video.
The one-time cost for a camera system is $750. Cheaper ones may not produce clear images for identifying criminals, he said.
“It is a residential initiative,” Commander Scirotto said.
Next, two detectives in a narcotics task force said the violence today on the streets seems to be getting younger and younger.
Their job has also changed in that they now have “Pittsburgh Police” on their jackets instead of wearing undercover clothing.
To a question of whether they feel safer in the jackets or undercover clothing, the detective said neither matter to him as “it is the quality of the character I work with,” pointing to his partner.
Chief McLay said the detectives realized in undercover gear they give criminals who flee or shoot at them the defense that they feared for their lives as they did not know they were being pursued by police.
The detective said they don’t answer 911 calls.
“We proactively go after the kid with a gun, and drug dealers,” he said.
He also said it is important to redefine the word “snitch” which criminals use to describe a person who helps the police.
If you love the community or person who was just killed, it is not snitching, he said.
Unfortunately, it is usually a singular witness who comes forward, he said. That person is easy to pick out as a target, and must return home.
“It is hard to protect one person coming forward.
“We need thirty people to come forward,” he said.
Next, Officer Luffey announced news of the 17th annual “Biscuits Bingo,” fundraiser for local animal organizations to be held on Saturday, March 7, at the IBEW Hall Local #5, South Side (before the Hot Metal Bridge).
Doors open at 10 a.m., with bingo beginning at Noon. The cost is $25 cash only, with tickets purchased at the door.
As the hall is huge, no one will be turned away due to lack of space.
Anyone who brings a food item for the shelter pets will receive a special prize from Officer Luffey. Children are welcome. The event is smoke-free.
There will be raffles, Chinese auctions, prizes, and gift baskets.
Next, Liz Style, of the city’s Dept. of Public Safety, gave a brief overview of the police department personnel changes.
In Zone 1, LaVonnie Bickerstaff is the new commander, replacing RaShall Brackney, who moved to Major Crimes.
The new Zone 6 commander is Jason Lando, replacing Scott Schubert, who was promoted to assistant chief of operations.
The former major crimes commander, Thomas Stangrecki, is the new assistant chief of administration. Maurita Bryant is assistant chief of investigations.
Commander Scirotto will be the new Zone 3 commander after the retirement of Catherine McNeilly.
An attendee asked if commanders will be moved around every few years. In Zone 3 at one time, there have been four commanders in five years which, he said, residents do not like.
Chief McLay said a police department problem has been six different stations.
“We have to learn to act as one bureau,” he said.
He also said he believes this can be accomplished in ways other than moving people around for change’s sake.
Mr. Wolfe said Zone 3 is down officers despite having the second highest call volume among all zones.
Chief McLay said where officers really need to be has yet to be determined.
He will conduct an analysis and, if the data suggests they are short-handed, he will make that case to policymakers.
Mr. Wolfe said new officers come to Pittsburgh for training, stay a year, and leave for higher paying jobs.
Chief McLay said if the job is rewarding in many facets, the officers will stay.
Mr. Wolfe said a staffing alternative is to hire retirees for routine duties on a part-time basis.
Chief McLay said he would love that, but state law prohibits it.
An attendee commented that he heard police morale is low.
Chief McLay said cronyism was alive and well when he arrived. His responsibility is to create opportunities, and get out the word about the good work being done.
He has been talking to officers about his plans and ideas, and asking for their input.
“Pride” is one word that resonates in the department, he said.
“I have to give them something to feel proud about again,” he added.
While he cannot change what the courts are doing, he will take on “stupid laws,” he said, while focusing on the force doing its job “extremely well.”
Officer Luffey said in 22 years on the job, Chief McLay is the only chief to have a conversation with her.
There will be no February meeting of the public safety council. The next meeting will be at 6 p.m. on March 16 in the Zone 3 police station. All subsequent meetings will also be held on the third Mondays of each month.