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Pittsburgh focuses 'community policing' on 18 neighborhoods

| Thursday, April 13, 2017, 10:21 p.m.
Pittsburgh Bureau of Police
Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert stands with 28 officers who were sworn in on Thursday, April 14, 2017.

Pittsburgh has boosted its police ranks to the point where it can afford to have 18 officers walking daily beats in 18 city neighborhoods, officials said.

Mayor Bill Peduto and police Chief Scott Schubert outlined plans Thursday for the community police initiative set to begin this year. Schubert called the program an important crime-reduction effort and said he hopes to expand to other neighborhoods.

“It gives us an opportunity to have somebody in that particular neighborhood every day of the week, same time,” Schubert told reporters gathered for a police recruit graduation ceremony in East Liberty. “You get the familiarity with the officer and you build that relationship, you build that trust. It's going to help in the end by helping partner the officers with the community and hopefully reduce crime, reduce disorder and bring us together.”

A rift between the police bureau and residents in neighborhoods made up mostly of minorities, prompted Peduto and former Chief Cameron McLay to create programs geared toward mending community relations. Officers attended neighborhood gatherings and sponsored events designed to bring cops and residents together. McLay assigned officers to walk beats in crime-ridden neighborhoods such as Homewood.

Pittsburgh now has enough officers to expand those efforts, according to public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler. Once numbering more than 1,000 officers, police ranks dipped below 800 in recent years because of the city's financial crisis. As of Thursday, the city had 912 officers including 28 recruits going through training, Toler said.

“This is not a change in philosophy or a change in policing,” she said. “It's the luxury of having enough staffing now where we can say, “Your patrol is going to include walking and talking and building those relationships.'”

Robert Swartzwelder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, said the department continues to lose officers through retirements — 25 officers have resigned or retired so far this year. He said specialized details place a greater strain on patrol cops.

“Although it might be a good idea, you realistically don't have the staffing to do it,” he said of the neighborhood beats. “I'm sure our grievances are going to go up and our overtime is going to go up.”

Toler said officers assigned to neighborhoods would answer calls as they normally would, but have the added duty of meeting with residents. She said the program would be cost neutral.

The police bureau's budget for 2017 is $98.5 million, the largest in city government. It covers salaries for 1,070 employees, including 892 officers. Officers' base salaries range from $43,833 in the first year to $65,432 for those with more than four years service.

Schubert said commanders from the city's six stations would select officers to serve on the community patrols based on experience in building relationships and skills in problem solving and communications.

They will be assigned to the following neighborhoods: Brightwood, East Allegheny, Troy Hill, Downtown, Hill District, Uptown, Allentown, Carrick, Knoxville, Hazelwood, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, East Hills, Homewood, Lincoln-Lemington, Beechview, Elliott and Sheraden.

Toler said neighborhoods were chosen by department supervisors based on crime and poverty levels and existing relations between officers and residents or business owners. She said Shadyside and Squirrel Hill aren't considered violent crime areas, but they have regular episodes of “nuisance” incidents that include such things as vandalism, purse snatchings and car break-ins.

“If you talk to the businesses out there in any of those districts you're going to hear shop owners talking about the nuisance type of crimes,” she said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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