Police monitoring groups, gangs for violence in South Pittsburgh
September 18, 2018
The Pittsburgh Police Department’s ongoing initiative to curb group and gang violence throughout the city was presented to the community at last Monday’s meeting of the Carrick / Overbrook Block Watch in the Birmingham United Church of Christ on Carrick Avenue.
The Group Violence Intervention Program, which is part of the department’s violent crimes unit, investigates all non-fatal shootings and keeps track of the 30 or so groups and gangs throughout the city.
Pittsburgh Police Commander Victor Joseph opened the community discussion by clarifying that most crime-related organizations in Pittsburgh are considered “groups” and do not meet the federal guidelines required for gang-classification.
“They’re young, not organized, and things can change rapidly,” Commander Joseph said. “Names change, associations change. Things change a lot.”
Commander Joseph said detectives within the Group Violence Intervention Program are responsible for keeping track of each group and gang, monitoring their locations and zones, and identifying influential members.
He also added the program seeks to intervene when a group member is at risk of being shot or when an individual is likely to seek retaliation against another group.
Under these circumstances, an outreach coordinator from within the department approaches the individual and offers access to resources such as a driver’s license, assistance securing a job, or gang tattoo removal.
“That’s basically what group violence intervention is,” Commander Joseph said. “We sit down with the at-risk individual’s mother, father, grandmother. We call it an honorable exit to get out of that lifestyle.”
If the group or gang member rejects the offer for assistance, officers continue to monitor their behavior in an attempt to arrest them for an alternative, drug-related crime, as uncooperating witnesses often make it hard to make an arrest during a non-fatal shooting.
Since the Group Violence Intervention Program’s inception in 2015, both Zone 3 and the entire city have seen a drop in gang and group-related shootings as well as non-fatal shootings overall.
“In 2016, city wide, we had over 195 nonfatal shootings,” Commander Joseph said. “That number fell into the 130s last year and we’re around 30 percent lower [in 2018] than this time last year.”
However, of the 15 non-fatal shootings and six fatal shootings that have occurred in Zone 3 this year, almost all of them have been group-related or involved a known association.
Commander Joseph said there are groups in Carrick with loose associations of criminal activity, but nothing that would classify as a gang. However, gang activity does exist in other Zone 3 neighborhoods and some have existed for more than 40 years.
He added younger people will generally become involved with a group or gang due to the association of an older family member. Additionally, schools, social media, and sports can all play a role in connecting youth to group or gang associations.
Following Commander Joseph’s presentation, a resident in attendance complained about the number of poorly managed halfway houses in Carrick and asked about the city and state’s ability to regulate recovery homes in the community.
Magisterial District Judge Richard King said the state law for regulating and reviewing recovery homes has not yet been passed. There are local, independent organizations who are inspecting and reviewing halfway homes, but the operators are not mandated to comply or display the ratings.
Halfway house managers also have a difficult time removing individuals who do not comply with policies due to laws around tenant and landlord relationships.
A few community announcements were also made at the end of the meeting.
Officer Aundre Wright said Zone 3 police have been receiving numerous complaints about juvenile crime on Spencer Avenue and Kirk Avenue. Officers are investigating.
Carrick / Overbook Block Watch coordinator Carol Anthony is seeking volunteers to make monthly calls to community members and inform them of upcoming meeting dates.
The Carrick Community Council will hold their next meeting on October 10. The organization will be reviewing a “wish list” of items residents want to see in the community. The meeting location will be announced soon.