Pittsburgh homicide stats show criminals killing criminals


PITTSBURGH (AP) – The city’s 71 homicides last year were the most since 2008 and well above the 10-year annual average of 55. But one pattern that emerged from statistics released Thursday is that most of the killings involve criminals shooting other criminals.
Police Chief Cameron McLay decried the city’s homicide rate as a “public health emergency” and promised to work with the community to defuse the culture that has fueled a spate of retaliatory killings that drove up the homicide rate.
The 34 people arrested so far in connection with the 71 killings have been, on average, arrested six times each or a combined total of 220 times. The 71 victims have been arrested 478 times, an average of seven per victim.
The chief said there’s a pattern of “retaliatory violence among groups on the fringe” of criminality but stopped short of saying the city had a street gang problem.
“I’m staying away from the word ‘gang’ on purpose because, depending on how you define ‘gang’, it excludes a lot of the people who are driving the kind of conduct we are talking about here,” McLay said.
“To call them gangs gives them more credit than some of these groups deserve, quite frankly.”
Still, the chief confirmed that city police are working with federal law enforcement among others, a scenario that has played out in the past whenever street violence has spiked the city or region’s homicide rate.
In 2010, federal prosecutors charged 26 young men with being members or associates of the Crips gang in the city sections of Brighton Place and Northview Heights. All 26 pleaded guilty rather than face federal racketeering charges that would have resulted in life in prison for many of them, although defense attorneys accused the government of overkill for using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to prosecute the gang.
“It wasn’t a RICO, it was GINO – Gang In Name Only,” defense attorney Warner Mariani told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after his client was sentenced in 2012. “There was no hierarchy, there was no Godfather.”
But such indictments aren’t unprecedented after waves of violence such as one in 1993, when a record 83 killings occurred.
A total of 52 men were prosecuted, again by the feds, in the mid-90s for being members or associates of the Larimer Avenue-Wilkinsburg, or LAW, Gang that plagued the city and its eastern suburbs with armed robberies, carjackings and shootings.
McLay acknowledged that can be one component of fighting street crime, but said working with the community to use a “focused deterrence” approach – which concentrates on the small percentage of people responsible for the violence – can stop some of the crime before it starts.
“Very, very few human beings really are prepared to take a human life, especially over such peripheral things as disrespect, rapping, something silly said on Facebook,” McLay said. “It’s the peer pressure in a dysfunctional group climate or culture that causes people to take those extreme measures.”

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