South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Camera survey first step in area crime prevention strategy


Topics discussed at the Jan. 26 meeting of the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Community Group included local crime, the proposed urban farm, cameras for crime prevention, and the annual Biscuits Bingo fundraiser for local animal organizations.

The meeting was held in the Ormsby Avenue Café.

Community relations officer Christine Luffey began by reporting the neighborhood crime statistics from Nov. 17 until that evening were “very low.”

There were two burglaries, two criminal mischief reports, one trespassing, two thefts, one stolen vehicle, and one drug arrest.

She shared brief details on a few of the reported crimes.

In a burglary in the 500 block of Fisher St., a realtor told police a house was broken into and the copper pipes stolen.

In the 400 block of Ormsby Ave., a motorist started her car to warm it in the cold temperatures, and then went inside. When she returned a few minutes later, the car was gone. It was later recovered.

“Please do not leave your car unattended,” Officer Luffey said.

In the 500 block of Mountain Ave., two females asked an elderly resident if they could use her telephone and bathroom. She later discovered her purse was stolen.

“Don’t let someone into your home that you don’t know,” Officer Luffey said.

Next, Officer Nathan Auvil, who is assisting Officer Luffey this year, said he walked in the South Side Flats and Mt. Washington compiling a list of private cameras for an interactive map.

 He said the district attorney’s office and the homicide unit call him for usage of the map. If there is a crime in an area, officials can look on the map to see if there are cameras in the area that may be of use.

The map has 400 locations in South Side and Mt. Washington.

He would like to have volunteers in the Mt. Oliver City area compile a list of private cameras for the map.

To a question of what to do if a property has a sign stating there is a security system in place, he said to put it on the list.

The cameras could serve two purposes: if criminals know the police have access it might cut down on crimes; and cameras could help solve crimes.

Officer Auvil said that two years ago, 12 cameras donated by the local business council were installed in the 2600 block of Brownsville Rd. The result was that 911 calls decreased by 63 percent.

Zone 3 has five to six city-owned cameras, he said. As it has the highest call volume among all the zones, there is a good argument for more cameras in the zone.

Group coordinator Suzanne Photos passed around a list for attendees to sign up to volunteer to help compile a list of private neighborhood cameras. Officer Auvil will be at the March 23 meeting with areas divided up for each volunteer to walk and jot down addresses.

Next, Officer Luffey introduced Hannah Sherer, of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.

Ms. Sherer said the non-profit organization served 1,483 children last year in Pittsburgh. It is starting to get more involved in partnerships on the Hilltop, where it currently serves 28 children who are matched with mentors.

Volunteers are asked to commit to a minimum of a one-year match, meeting two to four times a month with the assigned child.

Becoming a volunteer involves an interview, fingerprinting, background check, references, and a two-hour training session.

 For more information, visit:

Ms. Photos said another local organization helping children is the Lighthouse Pittsburgh, which offers after-school and summer programming for ages 4 to 14.

“We need a boys and girls club,” she said, and citing the area’s vacant buildings as potential meeting spots.

Sarah Baxendell, project manager, greenspace asset development for the Hilltop Alliance, next spoke about the proposed urban farm on the former St. Clair Village site.

She said she and Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, would be traveling to Penn State on Feb. 9 to give talks to agricultural officials about the opportunities at the site, such as becoming a partner on the farming aspect.

To a question of why it is taking so long for the project go get underway, she said there are no new developments in the plan for the Housing Authority to sell the property to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA).

As the land is owned by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the sale must be conducted under HUD guidelines, which delays the process.

With the urban farm, the transfer of federal property into a public/private partnership takes time. But she has been told the timeline for the land transfer is the end of 2017.

To a question of how residents can help in the process, Ms. Baxendell said she will let them know. But no one can go on the property to plant anything until the land transfer is completed.

 “This is a big deal. We need to be involved in the guidance of it,” Ms. Photos said.

In the evening’s final presentation, city Councilman Bruce Kraus, in response to an attendee’s suggestion the city take over and renovate vacant school buildings for public use, said the city and school district are completely separate.

The school board controls empty school buildings, he said.

With the Knoxville school, lead and asbestos could be issues, he said.

To a question about the vandalizing by juveniles of the recently renovated Knoxville Branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Brownsville Rd., Officer Auvil said he will ask the volunteer MAD DADS organization to hang out on the corner with the goal of providing mentorship.

The group is comprised of community fathers whose mission is to maintain safer communities while impacting the issues of drugs, gangs, and violence.

Mr. Kraus said he would look into it as he was not aware of the vandalism.

He said under Act 47, the city had to make cuts to programs at the recreation centers and elsewhere. But the mayor wants to change that as we come out of Act 47.

 An attendee said the neighborhood needs recreation centers as there was when she was a kid. Children need such activities, and encouragement, she said.

 Mr. Kraus said city officials are aware of that, and believe it is only a matter of time before it comes to fruition.

 To a question about recycling, he said the city is looking at a better means of recycling, such as removing the blue bags from the system as they clog it. Recycling is mandatory in the city.

 The meeting concluded with the announcement that the 19th annual “Biscuits Bingo” fundraiser for local animal organizations, and presented by the Pittsburgh Police, will be held on March 4 at the IBEW Hall Local #5, 5 Hot Metal St., South Side.

 Doors open at 10 a.m., and bingo starts at noon. Admission is $25 cash only, and tickets can only be purchased at the door. For more information, email:, or call 412-799-3713.

 There are about 600 attendees each year.

 There will be refreshments, raffles, Chinese auction, gift baskets, and more. Attendees who donate a pet food item will qualify to play a special game.

 Last year, $33,000 was raised.

 The next community group meeting will be on March 23.


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