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McKeesport gets HUD grant for housing security

| Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, 4:41 a.m.

McKeesport Housing Authority will make public safety upgrades at Crawford Village with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Federal officials announced Wednesday the city has been awarded $250,000 for a video camera surveillance system and upgraded exterior lighting to deter crime and drug activity on public housing property.

“It's wonderful,” authority executive director Stephen Bucklew said. “We're the only ones in Pennsylvania to receive the grant. It's going to be a big step in making Crawford Village a safer place to live.”

“It's really great,” said state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, the housing authority's chairman. “I want to thank my management team at the housing authority for taking the initiative and going through the paperwork and the process. It's quite an accomplishment and quite an undertaking.”

Nationally, HUD is providing $2.9 million from the department's Capital Fund Emergency Safety and Security Program to 15 public housing authorities to support emergency, safety and security needs.

Those include sudden increases in threat levels that pose a risk due to violent crimes or property-related crimes within the public housing community.

The grant will help further efforts by the authority, Mayor Michael Cherepko, and Brewster to improve overall safety in the city.

“This is part of the mayor's plan and my plan to continuously fight this issue of violence,” Brewster said. “We're going to send a message that it's unacceptable. While we do everything else we can do, these are the kinds of things that give law enforcement the tool that they need to investigate. Hopefully people will understand that we have this kind of sophistication. Just maybe it will prevent some of these things.”

Bucklew said there are more than 40 buildings, 435 units and in excess of 1,000 residents in the housing complex.

“We'll be able to put up fewer cameras and they'll be able to cover more ground,” Bucklew said. “The technology is phenomenal. We're excited.”

Law enforcement agencies will be able to access the surveillance system remotely, and a digital video recorder will store more footage for a longer period of time than the current system.

Upgrades will come from DataMatrix Systems Inc. of East McKeesport.

Crawford Village was the scene of several violent incidents this year, including the fatal shooting of jitney driver John Haas, 59, on May 29. Investigators believe he was not the intended target, and may have been hit because his car resembles one belonging to a gang member who may have been involved with other recent shootings.

A person was shot in early June near a basketball court at Crawford Village.

Assistant police Chief Tom Greene said the security system will be a great tool in preventing and solving crime in that area.

“They need it,” Green said of the upgrade. “That area takes up a great part of our call totals.”

Police will assist the authority with camera placement and safety implementation.

“We've been working hand in hand with the security director for quite some time, and they've cooperated with us also,” Greene said.

Bucklew said the housing authority will complete an annual contributions contract amendment electronically within the next two weeks, and the funds will be distributed later. McKeesport applied for the grant in June.

“I would think that by September we should be able to start implementing (the new system),” Bucklew said.

“These much needed resources will be used to help families living in public housing feel safer and more secure in their communities,” said Jane C.W. Vincent, HUD's regional administrator of the mid-Atlantic region.

McKeesport Housing Authority operates senior high-rises and the Harrison Village complex. Bucklew said those areas are well covered by security cameras.

Brewster said public housing units have been reduced from 1,200 to around 900, and the city has improved the properties.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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