South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Zone 3 crowded for safety meeting about car, house break-ins


A standing room only crowd overflowed the conference room in the Zone 3 Police Station for the August public safety committee meeting.

The primary focus of the meeting was two-fold: the rash of car break-ins in South Side and the large number of home and business burglaries in the zone. In addition, new Zone 3 Commander Karen Dixon answered questions about specific police situations in the neighborhoods.

Displayed on the conference room table were two maps of the zone: one identifying the location of 50 car break-ins between July 29 and August 16; and another with the more than 60 burglaries over the last month

Commander Dixon said they were “getting crushed” with Part 1 crimes, which includes thefts and thefts from cars, particularly on the weekends. However, she expected a number of the crimes would be cleared with the arrest of a suspect in South Side.

The commander said detectives came across the suspect while they were on their way to Carrick on another call. When the suspect learned he was about to be arrested, he complained about heart problems and was taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital. She said when the suspect is cleared by the hospital he would be arrested and taken to the Allegheny County Jail for processing.

When confronted by the detectives, he had a pry bar in his position. Commander Dixon added that a number of the car break-ins in the neighborhood used a pry bar.

She also noted the suspect was a heavy heroin user and desperate to get his hands on anything in the cars.

Commander Dixon said the police have identified as many as five additional individuals they think may be active in breaking into the vehicles including one who had his picture taken by a witness.

“It’s a crime of opportunity,” she said. “When you have someone who is desperate enough to go after loose change, sunglasses and an umbrella, that’s somebody who’s hard up.”

As far as the burglaries, the commander said they have developed several “good candidates” for crimes in South Side Slopes and Overbrook. Additionally, she said several older burglaries in Knoxville may be cleared up with the arrest of three brothers from the neighborhood.

“What I’ve been told about the history of those three brothers is pretty interesting,” Commander Dixon said.

The Zone 3 commander recently started updating a “community crime alert” for her officers, each day whenever possible, to let them know where crime is trending in the neighborhoods. She stressed the importance of people reporting their incidents, even if they don’t plan to prosecute the offender there will be a record and the crime can be tracked.

Ken Wolfe, Zone 3 Police Citizens Council president said the council and the police are working on an awareness campaign for the car break-ins. A previous campaign had officers put real looking fake tickets on cars notifying the owners they had left valuables exposed in the vehicle.

He said because the tickets look now, the fake tickets “would stick out like a sore thumb” and actually draw attention to the vehicles with valuables.

Officer Christine Luffey added she participated in a commercial with KDKA-TV about 10 years ago called “Smash and Grab” where they showed how easy it was to break a car window and grab the valuables inside.

“The most important thing with these thefts from vehicles is prevention,” she said. Acknowledging it’s inconvenient, she said adding it’s necessary to remove or hide valuables in the trunk when leaving a car.

Asked if they suspected any of the “train people,” homeless transient young people in South Side, for the break-ins, the commander said it was hard to say. Although they have no visible means of support, none of the suspects under consideration are among the group.

However, the commander also added the number of reported car break-ins may only be half the number of actual number of break-ins. Sometimes residents don’t report the crime to police because they’re only missing loose change.

Questioned whether it would be possible to control loitering on East Carson Street with posting of “No Loitering” signs the commander said there is no easy answer. While the police can use the “No Loitering” signs to prevent them from sitting in a storefront, they can’t keep them off the public sidewalk.

Noting many of East Carson Street’s sidewalks are wide, the police have to prove the people are actually blocking the sidewalk and preventing pedestrian traffic before they can move them along.

Commander Dixon said she has to make sure they handle problems with the homeless correctly and fairly noting, “They have rights, too.”

A woman expressed concern that homeless people had broken into the former Veronica’s Veil building off of Pius Street. The commander said she would look into it and Mr. Wolfe said he would contact the owner of the building in the morning.

The following day, when maintenance people checked the building they found someone had broken in during the past week and called the police to clear the building. Police came up and found evidence someone had been in the building, but no one was still in the property.

Referencing the maps of burglaries and car break-ins displayed on the table, the commander said since they have to work with the number of officers they have, they have to work smarter. One way is with the plotting of the crimes on the maps with addresses and times.

The maps will be continually updated and posted so officers can see not only where the crimes are happening, but also when so they can be aware if a trend develops.

Commander Dixon emphasized she can’t direct the officers to where they are needed most if people don’t let her know where the criminal activity is and the best way to let her know is by calling 9-1-1.

Reacting to the increase in burglaries in Zone 3, beginning last week a detail from the Burglary Division will be working in the area.

“This is definitely not normal,” she said in relation to the large number of break-ins. “This is a spike.”

City of Pittsburgh Public Safety Community Outreach Coordinator Liz Style said residents have to be vigilante in keeping track of and writing down the days, dates and times along with other information including addresses and license plate numbers when they see crimes such as drug dealing in the neighborhood.

“Our city police are very, very careful when they are doing investigations,” she said about the length of time it sometime takes to make an arrest. “They want to make sure that when they move in to make arrests of someone that it sticks.”

The commander also noted a new class of recruits has started the police academy that very morning. The class included 16 veteran officers who will be able to complete the academy in a reduced about of time, about five weeks before being assigned to field duty.

“I tried to get them all since I was the only zone commander who showed up,” she quipped.

Mr. Wolfe quickly updated the group on the special pilot safety blitz project the mayor promised for Carrick. So far, a committee of government officials along with several community members have met to figure logistics.

The committee will then meet with the community to learn more about the specific problem properties that would like to see addressed first.

“We’re trying to get it right so it will work in Carrick,” he said.


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