South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

CeaseFirePA wants 'common sense' laws concerning firearms

 

February 9, 2021



The Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC) meeting that began on Jan. 18 was completed on Jan. 25.

The reason was that a malicious Zoom "bomb" about 30 minutes into the Jan. 18 meeting was so disruptive it necessitated a continuation at the later date.

The meeting began with guest speaker Rob Conroy, director of organizing, CeaseFirePA. He introduced the new western Pennsylvania manager, Josh Fleitman.

Mr. Conroy said CeaseFirePA is the largest and longest-serving anti-gun violence group in Pennsylvania.

Its mission is to end the epidemic of gun violence through education, coalition building, and advocacy.

Among the legislation CeaseFirePA would like to see passed is extreme risk protection orders which would allow law enforcement officials and family members to temporarily remove firearms from someone at risk of harming themselves or others during a crisis.

Another desired piece of legislation is a statewide reporting requirement of lost or stolen firearms.

Mr. Conroy said he wants legislators to pass "common sense" laws, like expanded background checks.

Citing statistics from 2018, he reported that 71 of 121 domestic violence fatalities were the result of a shooting. Abused woman are five times more likely to be killed by an abuser with guns.

"There has been a massive increase in guns," he said.

From Sept. to Dec., 2020, in Pennsylvania, 420,581 background checks were conducted, which is 47 percent more than a year earlier. The prior quarter set a record at 406,151 background checks.

Other statistics include that at least 2,100 shots were fired in the city from January to October, 2020. So far this year, there have been eight fatal shootings in Allegheny County.

"We're here to support you also on a local level," Mr. Conroy said.

In questions-and-answers, he was asked about statistics on illegal guns.

"It is pretty much impossible to track," he said.

To a question about unsolved murders, Mr. Conroy said CeaseFirePA supports those suffering from losses, or helps connect those people with those who can help them. 

However, the organization does not investigate unsolved murders.

For more information on CeaseFirePA, visit: https://www.ceasefirepa.org/about-us/ .

Next, Acting Commander Lieutenant Louis Caporali, who is in charge of Zone 3 as Commander Karen Dixon is retiring, reported on local crime trends.

He said due to COVID restrictions, there has not been much trend news. But there were a few shootings on Brownsville Rd. and Carson St.

Speeding motorcycles and ATVs are still problematic, resulting in the forming of a multi-jurisdictional task force which will include education and enforcement.

A meeting in Monroeville with Allegheny County and other officials on this issue will be held on Feb. 23.

Recently, eight ATVs were confiscated, with only one claimed. The other seven had their serial numbers removed so they likely were stolen.

The lieutenant said the drivers wear masks and helmets, so they are very difficult to identify.

They are not pursued on roadways by police.

He has said previously the police cannot risk injuries by having someone run over during a pursuit. A driver may also die in a pursuit.

On another topic, the police are still dealing with the unlicensed speakeasies for those who want to socialize/drink after 11 p.m. in defiance of COVID restrictions.

Lt. Caporali said the clubs on Arlington Ave. and Brownsville Rd. are in violation of court orders if they reopen. Both were closed the prior weekend.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," he said of the court orders.

To a question about enforcement, he said police can make everyone leave with the court order, and close for that evening. But they often open the next day.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said clubs like Bridgez, Oddballs, and Cosmo close and then reopen, as no directive has been provided to local authorities by the governor's office on how to enforce COVID regulations.

He said 45 citations were issued in 38 days to Bridgez, but it did not stop them.

He also said Commander Dixon once said there was a push for giving offenders 10 days in county jail for speakeasy-related citations.

Lt. Caporali said a magistrate or judge would have to order that.

Regarding the pending retirement of Commander Dixon, he said 16 candidates were interviewed, with a final list of five candidates. Several other openings are expected over the next few months.

In questions-and-answers, Lt. Caporali said a triple homicide on Halloween on Beltzhoover Ave. was a drug deal gone bad, and a robbery. He said foot patrols in the area would begin once the weather improves.

To a question if there is gang activity in the area, he said there are Pittsburgh gangs, but they are not on streets assaulting residents. Violence is geared toward other gang members and not innocents, he said.

An attendee commented that a problematic area is the corner of Arlington Ave. and Millbridge St. where groups hang out. She said she would like to see police stop by sometimes.

The lieutenant said it is hard to take action if a crime is not being committed.

 Another resident said the Mayor's Office and Councilman Kraus became involved in the problem of bowhunting in South Side Park.

As a result, there are now "No Hunting" signs in the park, and bowhunting platforms in trees have been removed.

Lt. Caporali said while the police will keep an eye on the park, hunting could be permitted in wooded areas under some conditions.

Regarding Ormsby Park, Barbara Rudiak, of the South Side Community Council, said a group of parents have concerns about: trash, cigarette butts, bodily fluids, homeless people sleeping under the slides, and more.

The fear is the issues will be become even more prominent once the weather improves.

A Zoom meeting will be held with Mr. Kraus and parents.

 Next, an attendee said Rochelle Towers apartments in Knoxville will be in court on March 4. Its problems range from criminal activity to trash piles. It is also an eyesore.

"He should be fined daily," a Knoxville resident said of ownership.

Z3PSC president Liz Style next reported car break-ins are occurring again in South Side and Mt. Oliver City. Call 911 when it happens.

Lt. Caporali called it a "crime of opportunity," if the doors are unlocked and the perpetrator is looking for quick money. Motorists must lock their vehicles and leave nothing visible inside, he said.

In her brief update of the Z3PSC activities, Ms. Style said in 2019, the very successful family-oriented Picnic with Police was begun. It attracted about 250 residents.

The Z3PSC received a grant from the Love My Block program to support the Picnic with Police.

The plan was to hold the event again in 2020, but COVID made that impossible.

Most likely, it will not be held in 2021 either "but we really want to do it," she said.

Next, Roy Blankenship, Jr., of the Hilltop Alliance, spoke of the South Pittsburgh Illumination Project.

He said a problem in high crime areas is a lack of bright light. To combat that, 100 light bulbs will be donated to South communities, especially the depressed areas.

If seniors put the lights on their houses, it will help prevent prowlers, he said.

The bulbs will be donated by electric companies, and may be distributed by EMS and fire departments.

To a question about the Dept. of Public Works' (DPW) 4th Division on Mathews Ave., Mr. Kraus said the hope is for groundbreaking in winter, 2021.

DPW shut down the former Division 4 facility five years ago when it became uninhabitable as the building was toxic and unhealthy, and no longer viable.

Mr. Kraus said the funds are in place, and the new campus is designed.

A Zoom meeting to discuss the rebuilding of the 4th Division will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 11. It will be hosted by Mr. Kraus, Councilman Anthony Coghill, and DPW.

For more information, call Bob Charland, of Mr. Kraus' office, at 412-255-2130, or email Bob.Charland@PittsburghPA.gov.

The final question was about abandoned, vacant property on East Amanda. The attendee said children broke the windows, and there were squatters who set fires for warmth.

He asked what can be done to get it boarded up as the city owns the property.

Mr. Kraus said he and Mr. Charland will deal with it, and that it can be boarded and made secure.

The next Z3PSC meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Feb. 15. 

 

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