Surge in disruptive behavior in South Side leads Zone 3 council
Last updated 8/1/2021 at 8:11pm
The post-pandemic surge in crowds, disruptive behavior, and crime in the East Carson St. corridor was a major focus of the July 22 monthly Zoom meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC).
In his crime trends report, Zone 3 Commander John Fisher said shootings and other violent crimes are occurring across all zones.
There have been five homicides in Zone 3 this year. A man was shot the prior week on Bingham St., the commander said.
In South Side on weekend evenings, there are 10th to 18th streets corridor problems. The crowds that gather are different from the pre-pandemic revelers, he said.
So many people today simply cruise there, he said, and do not patronize the businesses.
To an attendee's comment there is also trouble in the two blocks off 10th to 18th streets, the commander said 30 additional police officers are assigned to the seven-block area.
In a pilot program beginning July 30 from 10th to 18th streets, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., East Carson St. will be one-way outbound. The side streets from 10th to 18th streets, and Sarah and Bingham streets, will be barricaded.
To a question about busses, emergency vehicles, and tractor-trailers entering the area, he said they will be let through.
City Councilman Bruce Kraus said numerous city officials have been meeting to craft a solution "to get us through this summer."
As the commander stated, they succeeded in getting PennDOT to agree to one-way for East Carson St. from 10th to 18th streets, on weekends, with traffic in an easterly direction only, he said.
The addition of light towers on 15th and 17th streets should also help with public safety while also increasing visibility for police.
Help from state elected officials – who write the laws and issue licenses and more -- is also needed.
Mr. Kraus said city officials have spent "endless" hours on the East Carson St. corridor.
He also said with the $22 million PennDOT safety improvement project on East Carson St. underway, more disruptions will be coming to the area.
"We have never seen anything like it," he said of the return of patrons following the COVID restrictions and closures.
That day, there was a meeting between bar owners and law enforcement.
"We are committed that nothing catastrophic happens," he said.
Nighttime economy coordinator Allison Harnden said the crime uptick is happening in other cities, for which she blames the pandemic.
She said many are not true customers but are there to cause disruption.
She called it "a period of transition."
Liquor licensing by the state is also a problem, such as its BYOB policy, as any individual may legally bring their own alcohol into an establishment.
Mr. Kraus said an expansion of Parking Enhancement District (PED) hours to include Thursdays will help with the clean-up aftermath.
The PED is the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
The funds must be invested back in the neighborhood for public safety, cleanliness, and infrastructure improvements.
Starting on Aug. 5, PED enforcement on Thursday evenings will begin.
For the first month, there will be a grace period in which an "Oops Card" on the windshield will give a break to violators. But starting Sept. 2, fines will be issued.
A third person has also been added to the Block by Block Clean Team which maintains the E. Carson St. corridor, for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning cleanups.
The Clean Team is paid by PED funds.
In questions, a Slopes resident raised concerns about the former American Legion in the 1700 block of Arlington Ave. They said the building has been rented to a group which plans to hold late night raves.
The neighbors oppose this, and asked what they can do before it begins.
Commander Fisher said he will contact the owner.
Mr. Kraus said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich is aware of the situation. He also said it appears there could be a liquor license there in "safekeeping," and that he would look into it.
Ms. Harnden said the zoning department is also researching this. As a social club it had an exemption, but not if it is not operating as an American Legion anymore.
Other agencies are also looking into the matter, she said.
"It is a very fluid situation right now," Mr. Kraus said.
Regarding St. Patrick's Day, a parade is planned for September 18, after which partiers typically descend on South Side.
"We'll be up and ready for it," the commander said.
He also reported Zone 3 manpower is down due to resignations and retirements. The trend is occurring city-wide as 54 officers have retired or resigned.
Mr. Kraus said losing officers is a national trend, and city council is discussing "adding a class at this time."
In an update, Commander Fisher said he spoke with a Warrington Ave. beer distributor and told him he had to curb drinking in front of the business. He also spoke with some of those drinking out front, and told them they could be cited.
A woman he spoke with was drunk at 9 a.m., for which he suggested mental health professionals reach out to her.
The meeting began with a presentation on "Crisis Response: Integration with Community Mental Health and Law Enforcement," with Dr. Sheila Roth, Laura Drogowski and Alexandra Abboud.
The new city Office of Community Health and Safety (OCHS) is launching the "Neighborhood Health and Safety Academy."
It will be comprised of educational sessions on topics like housing, substance use, and mental health to empower residents to understand and utilize resources. For more information, visit: engage.pittsburghpa.gov .
Dr. Roth, who came on board a month ago, is leading the Continuum of Support, a new component of the OCHS.
She said the office accepts referrals from first responders. Personnel are starting to go out with first responders and visit those who need their help. Follow-up occurs with clients after the initial engagement.
Regarding the mental health response in the community, Ms. Abboud, of the Office of Victim Assistance, said for involuntary commitment for mental health treatment to occur, the person "must be in imminent danger to themselves or others."
But it gets very complicated, as mental health "varies in nature and severity," Dr. Roth said.
Also, a person can appear as if acting abnormally, but it could be due to his being, say, drunk or diabetic.
We should call 911 if we encounter a potential crisis situation. "Everyone always thinks someone else called 911," Dr. Roth said of bystander intervention.
With such encounters, keep in mind respect for the person's space and your space; your voice should remain calm with hands at side; and consider: What are the benefits to you of getting involved?
Ms. Drogowski said it is hard to know when to help and how to help. If, for instance, someone is yelling wildly, there is not much anyone can do if it is not a safety risk to the person or others.
To a question if the OCHS is working with the Housing Authority, Ms. Drogowski said yes, with overdose-prevention work being done.
To a question about the Center for Victims, Ms. Abboud said she calls victims directly and connects them with agencies and resources.
"Every victim gets a phone call," she said.
Next, CeaseFirePA Western Pennsylvania manager Josh Fleitman delivered firearms updates. CeaseFirePA is the largest and longest-serving anti-gun violence group in Pennsylvania.
He said David Chipman was nominated by President Biden as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency key to enforcing federal firearms laws.
Mr. Fleitman said he hopes Senator Pat Toomey votes for confirmation, but that he will not.
The AFT has proposed to regulate ghost guns, which are manufactured in parts and can be assembled by anyone at home. There are no background checks and no serial numbers.
Mr. Fleitman told attendees they can tell the ATF to regulate deadly and untraceable ghost guns at https://ceasefirepa.salsalabs.org/dojghostgunpubliccomment/index.html
For more information on CeaseFirePA, visit: https://www.ceasefirepa.org/about-us/
Next, Z3PSC vice president Roy Blankenship delivered news of a "Peace in the Streets" essay contest for county youngsters.
The topic is "What will it take to bring peace to the streets?" and is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).
All Allegheny County residents between ages 14 and 18 are encouraged to enter. There will be cash prizes.
Essay contest entries are due by email, together with the completed registration form, on August 20. For the registration form and more information, visit: https://www.noblepittsburgh.org/noble-special-events-projects-1
In other announcements, Mahdi Bey, of the office of state Rep. Jessica Benham, reported a Hilltop health fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 25 at the Brashear CARES Center, 320 Brownsville Rd.
National Night Out (NNO) will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 3, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The annual event is designed to advance the importance of neighborhood unity and community-public safety relationships, and will be held locally in various neighborhoods as porch gatherings, block parties, festivals, and more.
The next Z3PSC meeting will be via Zoom at 6 p.m. on August 26. The topic has yet to be determined.
All meetings through 2021 will be held via Zoom.