Last year, 55 people—nearly half of Allegheny County’s 111 homicides—were killed in the City of Pittsburgh. Due to the 11 victims of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, Squirrel Hill saw the most homicides with 12. The neighborhood that had the second-most homicides was Homewood with eight. Taken collectively, the Hilltop neighborhoods—Arlington, Carrick, Beltzhoover, Mt. Oliver and Knoxville—also accounted for eight homicides.
Of those 55 murder victims, 30 were Black males and four were Black females, 62 percent total. The youngest was 17-month-old Charlette Napper-Talley, who ingested a lethal dose of fentanyl in her sippy cup while in her mother’s care.
There are, however, some “hopeful” signs amid the numbers. First, the total of 55 deaths is four fewer than the previous year in the city, and the lowest in five years, having dropped steadily from a decade high of 70 in 2014. As of Jan. 8, 2019, 33 have been cleared. That clearance rate of 60 percent is the highest in a decade, and a nearly 20 percent improvement from 2017.
NAACP Pittsburgh Unit President Richard Stewart, himself a retired police officer, credits Chief Scott Schubert with instituting changes that have led to increased community-police cooperation that have resulted in closing more cases.
He said he expects the combination of additional technology and new policing strategies, specifically community policing, to pay more dividends—like the Jan. 7 arrest of Tremayne Wilmer and Nehlah Stubblefield in connection with the November 2017 murder of 14-year-old Augustus Gray in Lincoln-Lemington.
“If you notice—because I have—people are talking now. They are calling the hotline, and talking directly to officers,” Stewart said. “I credit having a young, smart chief who’s about community policing, education and training.”
Stewart said the addition of body cameras and increased ShotSpotter deployment have allowed for faster responses to incidents, but the focus on community policing is key to successful investigations.
“The officers are out of the cars, they’re talking to people—they’re handing out cards, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “That new substation they opened in Northview Heights—those folks up there love those cops. The officers I see are interacting, they’re attending community meetings. We haven’t turned the corner yet in Pittsburgh, but we’re on the way around it. The trust factor is growing.”
Schubert did not return calls for comment by New Pittsburgh Courier deadline, but Department of Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri said in an email that the Bureau of Police is working to schedule a press conference on the homicide numbers and demographics in the coming weeks.
Naturally, if there was one more homicide countywide, and five fewer in the city, that means more occurred elsewhere. Those hotspots, and the county’s clearance rate, will be examined in an upcoming Courier story.
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