Crime rate drops in city
February 4, 2020
The City of Pittsburgh saw significant reductions in several key crime categories in 2019, most notably in homicides.
Police officials credited the reductions to several factors, including excellent police work, a focus on community outreach and engagement, the lifesaving work of medics, firefighters and hospitals, partner law enforcement agencies, and the communities and residents we serve.
“So many different things go into it,” Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said. “First and foremost, it’s hard work by our officers. Day in and day out, they amaze me with their work ethic, expertise and professionalism. And day in and day out, they make me proud to be their chief. Others also deserve credit, including community members, our law enforcement partners at the local, state and federal levels, our amazing medics and hospitals and our community outreach efforts.
“But while these numbers are encouraging, at the end of the day even one homicide is too many, one person being shot is too many,” Chief Schubert said. “So, we’ll keep working. We won’t be happy until the numbers are even lower.”
Homicides in the city dropped 36 percent year-on-year, from 58 in 2018 to 37 in 2019. The drop continues a downward trend over the past five years, and marks the fewest homicides in the city since 1998. In addition, the number of combined non-fatal shooting incidents plus homicides continued to trend downwards for a fourth year in a row:
Assistant Chief Lavonnie Bickerstaff noted that the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police began its transition from reactive policing to evidence-based and intelligence-led policing in 2016.
“This style of policing relies heavily on the Focus Deterrents Model advocated by David Kennedy, who is well known for his work in Boston’s ‘Operation Ceasefire,’” Asst. Chief Bickerstaff said. “This strategic response allows officers to identify and focus on the small groups of individuals who are actively engaged in violence and hold them accountable for their behavior instead of the entire community. When the police, community, and social services are working together and communicating the same message against violent crime, a true reduction in gun violence can be realized.”
There were 1,569 violent crimes citywide, a drop of just 0.8 percent from 2018, but an 18.8 percent drop from the five-year average of 1,932 violent crimes per year.
“Good police work is helping to keep residents safe,” Major Crimes Commander Victor Joseph said. “From patrol officers who do excellent work on their beats to detectives who conduct thorough investigations, the men and women of this Bureau deserve credit. Their hard work and expertise is reflected in these numbers.”
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said the expansion of the ShotSpotter system and security cameras played a big role in reducing crime and saving lives. In 2018, ShotSpotter was expanded from three square miles of coverage to 18 square miles of coverage.
ShotSpotter uses a network of acoustic sensors to detect when a gun is fired, and then precisely and quickly pinpoints the location of the gunfire, even if no one calls 911. The cameras allow police to review footage in the area of a shooting, identify suspects -- if not catch the actual crime and actor on camera -- and then track them as they flee.
“As a result of the ShotSpotter system and city-installed security cameras, police are responding immediately to gunfire and locating victims,” Director Hissrich said. “By responding faster than ever before, officers are able to render aid to victims who otherwise might die. Every officer carries and is trained to use a tourniquet, and the system combined with Pittsburgh Police’s training and the quick response of our EMS medics is, quite simply, saving lives.”
Mayor William Peduto added: “The significant drop in crime the last five years is attributable to the tireless work by our officers, our ongoing dedication to community policing, and continual investments in the Bureau that have resulted in the largest Pittsburgh police force in a generation.”
Officials also credited city residents.
When the public comes forward with tips, police solve crimes. As a result of increased community engagement, more people are helping police investigations by passing on key information. In addition, police programs aimed at connecting with youth allow officers to be viewed as positive influences who can help young people make constructive life decisions.
Group Violence Intervention (GVI), a strategy in which police focus their efforts on communities’ most violent individuals, is also helping. Through GVI, investigators and citizen outreach workers identify individuals who are most likely to commit a violent crime or become a victim of violent crime and hold custom notifications aimed at helping them escape a dangerous lifestyle.
“The concept is: We want you to live, we want you to stay out of prison, we want you to be a productive member of society and we want to help you get there,” said Rev. Cornell Jones, who leads GVI outreach teams. “It’s not just law enforcement. This is a whole village mentality, it’s all of us working together.”
Finally, partner law enforcement agencies contribute in numerous ways, including teaming up to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises. Pittsburgh Police has working relationships with many agencies, including the District Attorney’s Office, US Attorney’s Office, FBI Pittsburgh, University police departments, county law enforcement agencies and neighboring regional agencies.
While Police and Public Safety officials are pleased with the downward trends, much work remains.
Overall crime rates Downtown dropped by six percent, but violent crime Downtown increased from 119 cases in 2018 to 136 cases in 2019. Police have added patrols to the Golden Triangle, and plan to staff the Downtown Substation around the clock.
Also of concern: Ethnic Intimidation cases increased from 17 total incidents, with six involving violence, in 2018 to 22 total incidents, with 11 involving violence.
Pittsburgh Police have made it a priority to build bridges with every community and resident in the City of Pittsburgh and will not tolerate hatred against anyone. The increase in ethic intimidation cases mirror national averages, but Pittsburgh Police will continue to combat hate crime in all forms.
“We have focused on precision policing through our data-driven policing efforts,” Commander Eric Holmes said. “At the heart of our work is building bridges to the community. We are seeing the fruits of our labor.”