Carrick blitz steps, to date and next, outlined for residents
Last updated 9/7/2015 at 6pm
The cancelation of the St. Basil Parish Festival was the last straw for many Carrick residents and they came to the August meeting of the Carrick Overbrook Block Watch to hear a plan from Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and Mayor William Peduto.
The solution they offered was a public safety blitz focusing on blight and crime issues in the neighborhood. Residents would offer their input and the city would check 311 and 911 calls to identify the worst properties in the neighborhood. City departments would then target those properties over a six week period.
Four weeks following the block watch meeting, Councilwoman Rudiak’s office called another community meeting to report on the progress. Nearly 150 neighborhood residents showed up on a hot and muggy evening to learn what had happened in the previous 28 days.
“We can use this as a spark to ignite community change and community organization that can change Carrick for the better,” District 4 community relations manager Bethani Cameron said of the St. Basil Festival incident. Ms. Cameron facilitated the meeting while Councilwoman Rudiak was out of town for her mother’s funeral.
The Carrick Blitz is being designed as a multifaceted strategy, bringing together not only police, but inspectors from the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections (PLI, formerly Bureau of Building Inspections), Public Works, and the Allegheny County Health Department among others.
Ms. Cameron said they want to focus proactively in Carrick, “because we’re not going to let go of this neighborhood.”
Acknowledging the staffing problems the police department is having due to retirements and officers leaving, she said there is a large recruiting effort underway. But it takes time to train “a good police officer.”
In the meantime, over the period of the next few weeks, the Office of Community Affairs, the Office of Councilwoman Rudiak and “every city department” including the police will be working together to organize the city resources needed to deal with specific problem addresses.
“It’s exactly this kind of engagement that tells people that this is not the place to commit crime. This is not the place to go because this is where people care and where people are going to show up and say, ‘Not in my neighborhood, not on my block,’” Ms. Cameron continued.
Office of Community Affairs Deputy Director Lex Janes next stepped up to explain what has been happening in the four weeks since the block watch meeting. The first action item was to establish working groups and task groups and decide who had to be involved to achieve the stated goal.
Two Working Groups and one Reporting Group were formed.
The Stakeholder Working Group included not only the mayor, Councilwoman Rudiak and Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa, but also the Chief of Police and Zone 3 commander, the directors of the departments of Law, Finance, Public Works and Permits, Licenses and Inspections. In addition to the managers of the offices of Innovation and Performance and Community Affairs and additional city staff members.
From the neighborhood, Trish Hatfield, acting president of the Carrick Community Council; Carol Anthony, chair of the Carrick Overbrook Block Watch; Donna Williams, secretary of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council; and, Jim Tolland, block watch captain, were asked to participate.
The Data Working Group was the “engine behind this” Mr. Janes said because the blitz was going to be a data driven program. They would take a look at the 311 and 911 calls, compile the data with the number and type of calls and cross reference it with input from community members.
“The Department of Innovation and Performance, they can do analytics on crime data and 311 data to really target the properties that are the worst and the most impactful to go after the properties,” he said.
The group was populated largely with members of the Department of Innovation and Performance along with police, PLI, Community Affairs and District 4 staff members.
The Community Reporting Group consists of the neighborhood members from the Stakeholder Working Group along with Councilwoman Rudiak and her staff members, Mr. Janes and Grant Gittlen from the Office of Community Affairs and Zone 3 Commander Karen Dixon.
He said this was the first meeting of the Community Reporting Group and along with the block watch meeting it would be a way to keep Carrick residents informed.
Since the first discussion of the blitz plan by Mayor Peduto on August 3, The Stakeholder Working Group has met twice, the Data Working Group once and that night being the first meeting of the Community Reporting Group.
Mr. Janes said the plan has been broken up into three phases: Data Collection, Data Analysis and Decision Making.
The Data Collection phase gathered the addresses of community reported crime and blighted properties along with the city 311 and 911 data.
In the analysis phase, the Department of Innovation and Performance created a database of the reported properties and crimes and created a series of maps. Several maps showed where the community reported problem properties were, in addition to a “heat map” illustrating where the areas with high crime were in relation to the community reported properties and a third map with building inspection and public works issues.
The heat map showed most of Carrick had low crime with only portions showing as problem areas.
The police also went out and did a visual assessment of the problem properties reported by the community.
Mr. Janes said the three maps when overlaid showed some of the properties pointed out by neighborhood members were also the same properties with 911 and 311 complaints and would be targeted.
In the decision making phase, the Data Working Group decided the best way to prioritize the target properties was to focus on the ones with the highest number of reported and unresolved issues.
“If you can address the top dozen or so properties that can really make an impact,” he said. “When you look at the data and see that there might be a dozen properties with over twenty-some violations called in, but after that there’s a very steep drop off. The vast majority of addresses we look at had one incident of a 911 or 311 call.”
To strike at the worst properties causing the most aches and pains to the neighborhood, the city will be sending out teams. Those teams could be made of police paired with building inspectors, public works or Health Department workers according to the violations and the reported problems.
Ms. Cameron said they are working on a “report card” for the reported problem properties so they will be able to report back to the community where they started and what the results of the blitz on the properties.
“We have everything that we need right now,” Commander Dixon said.
“We’re going to start working on our problems and I really can’t get into what they are. We will give you a report card as we achieve our goal.”
Ms. Cameron explained that by city code, PLI must give property owners 30 days to fix a violation.
“We’re going to be starting off with the things that need more notification first, to get them the notification,” she said. They will also be working with the local District Judge to make sure he is aware of the blitz.