South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

City parks the focus of May's meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council

 


A city parks theme kicked off the May 27 Zoom meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC). 

Park ranger Jonathan Furman said the park rangers' program began six years ago. The rangers were originally in the Parks Department until transferred to the Public Safety Department.

There are currently 12 rangers city wide.

Their role is to "be ambassadors of the park," he said, which includes educating people on the rules, conducting trail walks and educational programs, exercising citation powers, aiding in safety situations, leading cleanups and tree plantings, and more.

"We have many hats to wear on day-to-day operations," he said.

There are five regional parks: Highland, Schenley, Frick, Riverview, and Emerald View.

Mr. Furman said last year hunting in the parks was an issue, to which the rangers erected "No Hunting" signs in South Side Park and others.

Emerald View park ranger Aubrey Thompson said there is an Explorers program, with virtual programming during the pandemic.

There are animals, butterflies, and more that youngsters can learn about.

"It can be about whatever the community wants it to be about," she said.

To a question if the rangers partner with other groups for cleanups outside of regional parks, Mr. Furman said yes.

"We do a lot of fun things but deal wit h serious ones, too," he said.

Next, Kathryn Vargas, of Citiparks, said the Dept. of Public Works maintains the parks and is responsible for park maintenance, and that Citiparks regularly works with them.

"We focus on parks programming," she said. That includes Regional Asset District (RAD) and neighborhood parks.

Citiparks just wrapped up camp registration for the summer – 500 children signed up, she said.

Spray parks and pools will be opening this summer.

Citiparks also runs summer and after-school food programs, and 13 senior centers. A reopening plan for the latter is being looked at.

Last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the food program was a grab-and-go process, Ms. Vargas said.

Z3PSC President Liz Style said Arlington will be getting a new playground this summer as will Phillips.

Next, Laura Drogowski, of the new Office of Community Health and Safety, said there are not always the necessary resources to help the homeless. But if a person is homeless for a year, they are prioritized for housing.

The pandemic made the problem more difficult as shelters were full, she said.

The city also has partners who help with the homeless.

Call 311 if you see a homeless issue.

Regarding encampments, the city or volunteers or groups will clean up and move its inhabitants to a better place, she said. However, there are some long-standing encampments as there is no place to put the people.

In the crime trends update, Zone 3 Commander John Fisher said Zone 3 crime is down compared to the rest of the city. However, more Zone 3 activity is anticipated as the weather is improving.

He did not see any homelessness on the South Side the past weekend.

"We don't want to get in the cycle of arrest, cite, arrest, cite," he said.

Sharlee Ellison, of the Knoxville Community Council, asked the commander about the recent racist graffiti on the Bears' football field house at Quarry Field in the Slopes. A young man has been arrested, and there is an effort to have it charged as a hate crime.

The commander said the charge at this time is "criminal mischief." It will be up to the district attorney if the charges are upgraded to a hate crime. The suspect may also be charged with the cost of clean-up.

Ms. Ellison called criminal mischief a "slap on the wrist" that she is not happy with.

Commander Fisher said it is up to the district attorney to charge with a hate crime.

In the meantime, the building has been newly painted, restrooms redone, and the mural repainted. Rewiring and lighting improvements will occur.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said the site is 75 to 80 percent completed.

 To Ms. Style's question of "What is a hate crime?" Commander Fisher said that, on the surface, to prosecute a hate crime more is needed than a swastika and the "n-word" spray painted on a building.

A specific group must be targeted.

If the suspect had gone to a home and did the same as he did to the Bears' field house, he would be targeting a specific family, the commander said.

 "It doesn't make sense to me as he was targeting a specific group with the n-word and swastikas," Ms. Ellison said.

On another issue, Ms. Ellison said two police officers were requested for COVID-19 vaccine distribution at McKinley Park. The commander responded at that time he may not be able to assign that coverage, but the area would be patrolled.

Ms. Ellison said she was there from noon to 3 p.m. and did not see any officers.

Commander Fisher said he is happy to send officers if manpower allows. But they were below manpower that day. Officers take vacations now in the warm weather, which helps create shortages.

He also said a request was put out that day for overtime, but no one responded.

Next, Ian Reynolds, coordinator of Safer Together, Dept. of Public Safety, said summer camp begins on June 28.

To a question about National Night Out, the annual community-building event, it is scheduled for Aug. 3.

Next, to a comment about after-hours clubs, Mr. Kraus said alcoholic licensing is governed by the state.

 Illegal speakeasies are currently under investigation.

The so-called "speakeasies" sprung up during the pandemic for those who wanted to socialize after 11 p.m. in defiance of the COVID restrictions. 

"They are not legal," he said, adding that law enforcement is "well aware" of them.

On the topic of graffiti, Mr. Kraus said a particularly troublesome graffiti site is the brick wall between S. 17th and 18th streets. He said he, the owner, South Side Community Council President Barbara Rudiak and others met about this.

A fence was erected, and there have been no problems since, he said.

The next Z3PSC meeting is scheduled via Zoom for 6 p.m. on June 24.

 

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