South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Mayor touts decrease in homicides, increase of ShotSpotter program


April 24, 2018

“Trauma, Public Safety & You: Impacts & Solutions” was the topic of the spring city-wide public safety meeting which drew more than 125 residents to the Teamster Temple in Lawrenceville on April 18.

The meeting was conducted by Zone 5 public safety council president Diane Daniels.

Mayor Bill Peduto kicked off the evening with the good news that homicides have been declining in the city since 2014, and the violent crime rate is down.

New programs are beginning to fight opioid addiction. Police officers who just graduated from the academy are trained in treating the addict while going after the dealers.

He announced the ShotSpotter program will be expanding city-wide over the next few months. The gunshot detection technology locates and alerts law enforcement about gunfire incidents in neighborhoods as they occur.

It better protects officers; enhances the likelihood to make arrests and recover evidence; directs police to crime scenes in time to aid victims; and more.

The plan is to equip officers with the best and latest technology.

The mayor concluded by stating law enforcement efforts are working so well, in part, because of the interactions between officers and residents, as attested to by the public safety councils.

Next, in his brief remarks, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said even with all of the technology, law enforcement needs the cooperation of concerned residents, as in public safety councils, to help fight crime.

He also said the trauma focused on that evening is about much more than gunshots as opioid addiction is also trauma.

The panel discussion then began with Master Police Officer Patty Poloka, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s first ever employee wellness and resource coordinator.

As such, she works toward improving all aspects of employee wellness, such as individual and organizational health and fitness, mental health peer support, critical incident program oversight, and spiritual resources.

As Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) coordinator, she oversees 40 hours of CIT training for police officers to improve crisis response. Topics include suicide prevention, mood disorders, substance abuse and recovery, personality disorders, and more.

One in four adults experience a diagnosable mental health disorders in a given year, she said.

Benefits of the CIT program include improved, trained response to crisis calls; positive community relationships; and reduced unnecessary arrests and use of force.

Officer Poloka said officers who attend CIT training have a lower rate of injury to themselves and criminals.

A success story is that in the first quarter of 2017, city police officers had one-to-three bridge jumper saves per month, based on CIT reports.

The next panel member, Dr. Sheila Roth, a professor in the Dept. of Social Work at Carlow University, is assisting the Dept. of Public Safety to build and enhance support networks for first responders and their families.

She spoke on “The Impact of Traumatic Stress on the Community and First Responders.” She said when traumatic events happen, anxiety invades the lives of those directly impacted, those who love them, and those who respond to the event.

A community can get back on track and begin to heal through awareness and support.

An example of a traumatic event would be a child drowning at a public pool. In addition to the family, the lifeguard, paramedics, fire fighters, police and anyone else on the scene could be severely impacted.

Effects include thinking less clearly, lower functioning in life/work/school, and interference with healthy relationships.

Dr. Roth said there are resources for public safety personnel, such as counseling and the Pittsburgh Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team.

The next panelist was Dana Bleasdale, victim assistance coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh, and a licensed social worker.

She provides social service support to individuals referred through the bureaus of police, fire, and EMS who are impacted by crime, disaster, and crisis to rebuild and heal by providing emotional support, needs assessments, and services referrals.

She said the first thing she does is assess needs, followed by referring the victim for assistance with counseling, housing, shelter, and other basic needs. She then coordinates efforts with the city, county, and other agencies.

With the pool scenario presented earlier, Ms. Bleasdale said victim assistance would help as she would check with first responders about how they are coping. She would then normalize the experience and provide information about the effects of trauma.

To assist the family, she would contact the mother to offer support and resources. She would also ensure that the family has the information and communication with the bureaus, as requested.

Resources include the United Way Helpline, BigBurgh, Center for Victims, Women’s Center and Shelter, and more.

The final panelist was Father Paul Abernathy, an Orthodox Christian priest and the Director of FOCUS Pittsburgh, a non-profit focused on human development in the Hill District. The FOCUS Pittsburgh Free Health Center offers free care with an initiative addressing community trauma.

FOCUS is also the provider of a community trauma response team for the county Health Dept.’s Office of Violence Prevention.

“You cannot consider public safety without also considering public health,” he said.

Rev. Abernathy said the trauma response teams help the healing process and foster stability for those impacted by gun violence.

“We are tired of watching the news and saying ‘What can we do?” he said.

In the question and answer session that concluded the meeting, Rev. Abernathy was asked about his response team, which he said is organized to respond to homicides from gun violence.

“Good-hearted” residents, following 40 hours of training, are the primary responders, he said.

To a question of what the response team does, he said the goal is to engage the population in the homicide area in order to seek out those affected and those not willing to come forward.

When notified of a homicide, respondents receive a message about where to go and objectives.

The immediate goal is stabilization. Another goal is to maintain a presence for the first 48 hours.

To a question of how many times it was deployed, Rev. Abernathy said the team “went live” on Thanksgiving Day, and was out the evening of this meeting.

To a question to Ms. Bleasdale about how a victim can reach her, she said anyone may telephone.

Next, a woman whose husband was killed in a hit-and-run thanked all of the first responders, whoever they may be, who assisted her at such a tragic time. She said there were no words to adequately express her gratitude.

The next questioner asked about elder abuse and whether the police will check on the elderly.

Officer Poloka said if you live, say, in Florida, and are concerned about your parents in Pittsburgh that you should call the police here and they will check on them.

In announcements, the American Red Cross is looking for volunteers to install free smoke alarms on April 28 in Homewood from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Volunteers should meet in the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.

The volunteers will knock on doors and ask residents if they would like free alarms installed in their homes and free safety education.

Training for the roles of educator, documenter, or installer will be done that day. You may sign up at Anyone in any neighborhood in need of a free smoke alarm should also visit the website.

Someone will call and make an appointment to come to the house.


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