South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Zone 3 safety council reconnecting through Zoom during the pandemic


Last updated 5/28/2020 at 10:07am

Updates on the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and related matters, were the focus of the May 18 virtual meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC).

The group's first ever Zoom video conference included speakers: city Councilman Bruce Kraus, Zone 3 Commander Karen Dixon, and Shatara Murphy of the city's Department of Public Safety.

Z3PSC president Liz Style kicked off the meeting by saying its purpose is "to reconnect and get to know each other again." The group last met in February.

She also cited the desire to identify issues needing addressed, sharing information, and discussing concerns as the reasons for the gathering.

Ms. Style reported numerous summer events are cancelled, including the Picnic with Police. The second annual event was tentatively scheduled for July 18 at the Arlington Spray Park.

She asked participants to send her photos from last year's Picnic for the Facebook page. The focus now is planning for the Picnic in 2021.

National Night Out will not be held in August, as was traditional. It is tentatively planned for October, but could change depending on the virus.

Donna Williams, block watch development and support committee chair, said her neighborhood plans to hold "porch picnics" during National Night Out.

Ms. Style said the event may not have the public safety presence as at past events when police officers, EMS personnel/informational vans, and others would stop by gatherings.

Also, the next planned city-wide public safety meeting could be held virtually instead of in a meeting hall, as was customary.

The first guest speaker was Commander Dixon.

She said first quarter statistics for Part I and II crimes declined by 9% from last year. Those crimes also declined by 15% from last month.

She attributed the trends to the stay-at-home order from Governor Wolf. That order is also helping prevent property crimes as residents are present, she said.

Another consequence is lower car break-ins as home-bound residents are seeing these crimes occurring and calling 911.

The commander also reported the zone is currently "very well-staffed" with 112 officers, making it the largest station.

To a question about potential exposure to the virus, she said all personnel are screened at the beginning and end of shifts. With anything questionable, officers are sent home.

For a runny nose or a wrong answer to a question, you go home, she said.

"We go big on the side of caution," she said.

To an Allentown participant's comment that some officers are not wearing masks in the neighborhood, Commander Dixon said she will remind them of the mandatory rule.

To a question if domestic violence calls have increased during the stay-at-home order, she said the numbers seem unchanged.

Barb Rudiak, of the South Side Community Council, thanked the commander for the officers and detectives who made an arrest in the package theft problem on her South Side block.

Ms. Rudiak told the victims they must always file police reports for an investigation, to which the commander agreed.

To a question from Ms. Style of what residents should do in this COVID-19 "yellow phase," Commander Dixon said to follow the guidelines of wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Mr. Kraus said the city is limited on enforcement. Violations may be reported on the county's health department website, such as businesses that open, masks not being worn, and more.

A participant commented that bars outside the city are setting up tables in parking lots to serve customers.

Mr. Kraus said we are starting to see "expanding space for social distancing." 

He also said officials are kicking around the idea of using the surface lots at 13th, 18th, and 19th streets to set up tents with tables and chairs.

The tents will allow patrons of an establishment to buy an alcoholic beverage, as the sale of mixed drinks was recently approved by the governor.

Mr. Kraus said the issue now is figuring out how to do this as there are expenses for tables, chairs, litter, Public Works tasks, police, and more. But other cities are doing it to help the restaurant and bar industry.

As the city of Pittsburgh would be involved, "it won't be a Wild West," Ms. Style said, to which Mr. Kraus agreed.

In her update, Ms. Murphy said all public safety personnel have measures in place to keep everyone safe as CDC guidelines are followed.

While all public safety employees --firefighters, EMS, police, park rangers, and others -- must wear masks, the city is not enforcing it for residents who, say, go for walks, she said. 

But residents are encouraged to do so.

If individuals or groups need masks, the Public Safety Dept. will supply them if it has extra masks to give.

Ms. Murphy asked everyone to keep an eye open for neighbors' needs like food, mental health issues, diapers for single mothers, as quality of life issues extend beyond food.

She said to jot down the needs and send to her and she will add to her database of resources.

In his report, Mr. Kraus said the state's $16.31 million East Carson St. corridor improvement project just began, and will last for 18 months. It will extend from the Smithfield Street Bridge to 33rd St.

It is based on increasing safety as the corridor is the sixth most dangerous stretch of road in the state, largely based on DUI statistics.

Upgrades include: milling and resurfacing; signage and signal updates; draining repair; ADA ramp and guiderail installations; high visibility crosswalks; and more.

The first phase will run from the Smithfield St. Bridge to 9th St.

East Carson St. between First and Third streets will have a center-lane closure. Traffic attempting to enter East Carson St. in this area will only be allowed to turn right. There will be no parking on East Carson St. between First and Third streets during construction.

To increase safety for pedestrians, the walking route to the "T" will be redesigned, with a sidewalk built to 7th St.

There will be new bus stops and shelters.

In Phase 2, East Carson St. between Third and Ninth streets will have single-lane restrictions through early September. Traffic will be maintained in each direction.

Mr. Kraus also announced that the city is facing a $127 million shortfall in its operating budget due to COVID-19. That amount represents more than 20 percent of the operating budget.

"We will be making very difficult decisions," he said.

Next, Roy Blankenship, of the Hilltop Alliance, said the organization is giving gift cards from three Allentown restaurants to those out of work.

He also said he is hoping that next month's Zoom meeting will include a representative from the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to learn how residents can reach out to those in need.

Next, Sharlee Ellison reported Knoxville and Beltzhoover residents came together to feed children when the schools closed. It became a grab-n-go at St. Paul Church.

The residents also decided to feed 115-120 seniors three days a week. Last week, boxes from the food bank were distributed.

Ms. Ellison said a chef is cooking for them until his restaurant reopens.

Ms. Williams next asked Mr. Kraus if there will be any money for McKinley and Leland parks. Last year, city voters approved a referendum for a property tax increase to fund park improvements.

Mr. Kraus said city council has not taken into consideration the tax for parks at this unprecedented time.

"Everything is still in process," he said.

He added the basketball hoops at the parks are down as users could not be held to social distancing. 

The next Z3PSC meeting will be sometime in June.


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