South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Police strategy to focus on population causing the most problems


A policing strategy focused on a small population that causes most of the violence in the city was among at the topics at the Oct. 21 city-wide public safety council meeting.

Entitled “Where do we go from here?”, the meeting drew more than 100 residents to the Pittsburgh Project building on the North Side, prompting Assistant Chief Scott Schubert to comment he appreciated the “great turnout.”

The meeting began with a presentation on the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) policing strategy by Commander Larry Scirotto and Detective Amy Mattia, Major Crimes.

The commander said the challenge is to address and come up with a strategy that deters street group-involved homicide and gun violence.

Rather than casting a net over the entire neighborhood, the focus is on the small subset that causes most of the violence, estimated at less than six percent of city residents.

Detective Mattia said there is strict criteria for someone to be labeled a gang member -- simply residing in a particular neighborhood, or dressing a certain way, is not enough. The aim of the policing strategy is to identify the individuals involved in gangs and other violent street groups, focus on an antiviolence theme, and provide outreach.

The outreach consists of communicating positive messages, conveying the consequences of further violence, encouraging compliance with the law, and providing a path for those who want to change, such as taking advantage of social services.

To a question about the low employment of African Americans in Pittsburgh, Commander Scirotto said the outreach includes a partnership with Goodwill. Some participants need assistance, such as earning GED, or high school diploma equivalency, or need a bus pass or more.

While the program provides that help, “they have to be willing,” he said.

To a question about strategies for businesses which engage in destructive behavior, the commander said one tool is the nuisance bar task force.

If efforts to bring the nuisance bar into compliance with the Liquor Control Board and various city codes fail, the nuisance bar task force will seek to have the bar closed.

He said residents should stay vigilant about problem businesses and report issues to authorities.

Upon his arrival at the meeting, Mayor Bill Peduto spoke about the two current policing initiatives running on parallel tracks: one works with data analytics, while the other works to build relationships with the community.

With the latter, police officers become more involved in the community, whether it be coaching, volunteering, or participating in “Croissants with Cops” to meet West End community members.

With the data analytics track, county information is used to determine affiliations among criminals.

He concluded by saying the city is looking at having two police classes next year, which could bring the force up to more than 900 officers.

In his comments, Assistant Chief Schubert said Pittsburgh is one of six cities chosen by the U.S. Justice Department for a pilot police community relations program.

Called the “National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice,” it is designed to improve relationships between communities and the police and the criminal justice system, and advance the understanding of those issues.

The assistant chief said police Chief Cameron McLay came here focused on reducing violent crime, while also interested in enhancing community engagement.

On another topic, he recommended that concerned residents attend the Pittsburgh Citizen’s Police Academy.

Classes meet for three hours a week at night for 15 weeks.

The free academy offers a behind-the-scenes look at what police do, like how fingerprints are taken.

Participants are also taught the basics of criminal law, search and seizure, patrol tactics, firearms, and more.

This year, a junior citizen’s police academy is being held at Brashear High School for students interested in learning about policing and being a police officer.

The final presentation was by Wendy Urbanic, the response line supervisor of 311, which is the city’s phone number for government information and non-emergency services.

It is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Messages may be left on the answering machine outside those hours.

Service requests can also be submitted at, or on the 311 Twitter account of @Pgh311.

As a general rule, if you need to see or speak directly to a member of public safety, i.e., police, fire, or EMS, call 911.

For ongoing problems like illegal dumping, abandoned cars, potholes, overgrown weeds, broken street light or any non-emergency situation, residents should call 311 or 412-255-2621.

Callers receive a reference number so they can call back to learn the resolution.

Ms. Urbanic said she is very excited about the implementation of new software which replaces software developed in the late 1980s.

The new software makes it possible for callers to create their own accounts, which allows the 311 office to track all of one’s requests.

She also encouraged residents to keep calling 311 to report suspicious activity, burned-out street lights, and more.

“Your help is critical to our public safety folks doing what they do,” she said.


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