‘Uptick’ in homicides gets city, police reaction

HOT SPOTS—Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto points to locations of recent homicides in city neighborhoods during an Aug. 4 press conference announcing police changes. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Even though it was the coolest July in 30 years, it was still July. And historically, murders in Pittsburgh peak in July. But the city is not taking the recent spike in homicides, which has spilled into the new month, quietly.
Joined at an Aug. 4 press conference by acting Chief Regina McDonald, Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar and other members of the police command staff including Zone 5 Cmdr. Timothy O’Connor, Mayor Bill Peduto said he was taking extra measures in an effort to prevent the murder total from climbing to the 74 seen in 2008.
He noted that there have been 44 homicides in the city so far this year. There were a total of 46 for all of last year.
“We had 11 homicides in the city last month, and we haven’t seen that many since July 2010,” he said. “I am asking the public to become more involved, and one way they can is through tomorrow’s (August 5) National Night Out. If you see something that’s not quite right, report it. Our goal is to get ahead of this thing.”
He then turned the podium over to Bucar who said the causes for the recent rash of homicides are varied. Some, like the Aug. 2 shooting in the strip district that left one dead and five wounded, were the result of arguments. Others were not.
“It’s mostly speculation, but it seems to revolve around the drug trade. That seems to be the focus of the threat,” he said. “So, you’re going to see some changes. You’re going to see officers walking beats and focusing on the drug trade.”
Specifically, said McDonald, there will be new officers assigned to Zone 5, which has had the highest number of homicides in the city this year, 17, most of those in Homewood.
“Thirteen officers will be in Zone five this week,” she said. “This will give them the chance to get to know the community, and for the community to get to know them. These are veteran officers from other jurisdictions, whose experience allowed them to graduate from the (Pittsburgh police) academy sooner.”
TEAM EFFORT—Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar and members of the police command staff announce new strategy to halt an “uptick” in the city’s homicide rate. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

McDonald added that Zone 1 Cmdr. Rashall Brackney had also increased patrols in the Northview Heights public housing community and had worked with the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to increase its security after two fatal shootings in as many days, and the Aug. 3 discovery of a body dumped in the woods along Penfort Street.
When asked, McDonald admitted that all 13 officers are White.
Recently retired patrol officer Brenda Tate, in this instance, disagrees. She said sending relatively raw recruits into Zone 5 is a bad idea.
“These are people who are clueless about the culture,” she said. “They may have experience, but they don’t have experience in Homewood. That scenario is a ticking time bomb.”
Though none of the former suburban officers are Black, Peduto said that does not reflect on his administration’s commitment to increasing diversity in the police force.  The assignment to Zone 5, he added is temporary.
Public safety spokesperson Sonya Toler said that while some in the Black community will try to make an issue of that, “It is ill-conceived to think only Black officers can patrol Black communities.”
(Send comments to cmorrow­@­new­pitts­burgh­courier.com.)
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