South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Police procedures, policies and changes discussed at Zone 3

 

November 3, 2020



Police policies and procedures, changes in training policies and actions that reduce concerns with policing, and ways in which the community can continue to serve as partners with the police were among the topics at the Oct. 19 meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC). 

The guest speakers were: Chief Scott E. Schubert, Pittsburgh Police Chief; Commander Eric Holmes, Chief of Staff and Commander, Intelligence Unit; and Sgt. Tiffany Kline Costa, Community Affairs Unit.

The Zoom video conference also included city Councilman Bruce Kraus, and Richard Carrington, team leader of the South Pittsburgh Peacemakers, an initiative of the South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace.

Chief Schubert, a 25-year force veteran, began by saying "It has been a difficult year for a lot of people and for different reasons," citing COVID and social unrest.

Regarding social justice, he said inequities in education, housing, healthcare, and more need to be addressed, and he looks forward to Mr. Kraus and others in government working on it.

He also noted that with the social unrest, more chiefs nationwide have retired.

"It would be easy to let someone else do this, but no way I'm going to do that."

"We're in it for the long haul," he said of the city police force.

The chief is a strong proponent of community policing, adding there is nothing better than community members getting to know each other and the officers in the community.

No one knows a community better than the ones who live there, he said, so the police and community must work in partnership.

The new Community Engagement Office (CEO) was put together by Chief Schubert and is under his command.

He said Sgt. Kline Costa, who excelled in her role, such as interacting with students at school, took the sergeant's class as he wanted her to be part of the CEO.

Some of its activities to make an impact include: pre-COVID community engagement; youth connections in schools that involve interacting with police; and mentoring outside the classroom.

Grades K-2 classroom visits are being developed for after COVID.

The CEO distributed boxes of produce and more to senior centers.

"It's about how you can meet the needs of the community," Sgt. Kline Costa said.

CEO also partnered with the nonprofit Global Links for 100,000 face masks for 75 city organizations, from senior high-rises to homeless groups to after-school sites.

Officer Brian Shelton said he was tasked with getting to know residents in the Hilltop, which included attending Knoxville and Arlington community meetings.

He said it is easier to diffuse situations when you know the people involved.

Chief Schubert said the level of transparency is also important, so crime reports, annual reports, and other materials are posted on-line and in social media.

Among police force officers there are 10 different languages that can be spoken to help communicate with various communities.

To a question about what is being done to prevent police brutality, Chief Schubert said the Pittsburgh Police is one of the best-trained police departments in Pennsylvania, with 11 months of training.

Equipment is provided that is "second to none," he said.

The chief said, in the past, when murder was committed in a community, the first thought was "zero tolerance" in that community.

But most people in the community want safety. The answer was not "taking it out on the whole community because of a few," he said.

Now, the police are very strategic in pinpointing the troublemakers, with the focus of getting people out of that lifestyle.

To that end, Mr. Carrington and other volunteers are vital, he said.

"I can't thank them enough for our community, and for saving kids," the chief said.

To a question about the decision-making process for selecting a new Zone 3 commander in light of the pending retirement of Commander Karen Dixon, the chief said it is a civil service procedure.

There have been 16 applicants (lieutenants and sergeants) who provided information in essays, and underwent interviews on Zoom.

The chief said recommendations will be made, after which there will be meetings with the mayor and public safety officials.

He told meeting attendees to let him know what they want in a commander and email him.

To a question from Mr. Carrington of some of the things the department could do better, Chief Schubert officials are reevaluating all of its policies. Consistency is also being looked at.

"We're always evolving and, if we stop, get rid of us," he said.

To another question from Mr. Carrington of what prevents officers from turning cameras off, the chief said it is a violation to turn them off.

"We can audit the cameras. If someone turns them off, we will know," he said.

In reports, police Lieutenant Louis Caporali, who is in charge of Zone 3 until November when Commander Dixon returns, said there are no trends as of late.

The police are still dealing with the unlicensed speakeasies; the one on Brownsville Rd. in Carrick has received $50,000 in fines so far, he said.

The speakeasy in the 1700 block of Arlington Ave. is being investigated. 

The speakeasies attract those who want to socialize/drink after 11 p.m. in defiance of COVID restrictions. None has a license to sell alcohol.

A problem for law enforcement is that even when fined or shut down, the establishments quickly reopen as no directive has been provided by the governor's office on how to govern or enforce COVID.

The lieutenant also reported that, in light of recent Arlington spray park shootings, a "Take Back the Park" event was recently held there.

Z3PSC president Liz Style said the event came about after concerns were raised at the last Z3PSC meeting about the shootings, after which Mr. Carrington had a meeting with neighbors.

Lt. Caporali said officers conduct patrols there daily, during which they also strive to interact with residents.

To a question about graffiti on the brick wall at S. 18th and Jane streets, and behind the Rex Theater, he said he would have both sites checked. Residents should always call 311 about such vandalism, he said.

Ms. Style also reported help appears imminent for a homeless man living under a Flats bridge, and for which concerns were raised at last month's Z3PSC meeting.

Alexandra Abboud, the city's new victims assistance coordinator, has been contacted and become involved.

"It's neighbors working together," Ms. Style said.

Next, Ian Reynolds, the "Safer Together" coordinator, Dept. of Public Safety, said Trick-or-Treat will be held in the city from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children and adults wear protective cloth masks.

Neighbors should: avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters; give out treats outdoors, if possible; set up a station with individually bagged treats for children to take; and wash hands before handling treats.

Mr. Reynolds also reported that the annual Thanksgiving "Get Stuffed With Love" program, to ensure no city resident goes without a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, will be held again this year. 

There are no income or age requirements. Everyone in need is eligible to receive a free, warm meal delivered to their residence. Call a zone police station to register.

Zone 3 residents should call community relations Officer Christine Luffey at 412-488-8425 to register.

The next Z3PSC meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Nov. 16. The guest speaker has yet to be determined.

 

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