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Pittsburgh to spend $1M on cameras, gunshot sensors for Homewood

| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 12:51 p.m.

Pittsburgh police began using cameras and license plate readers to target criminals in the East End ahead of City Council's vote on Tuesday to spend more than $1 million on cameras and gunshot sensors in Homewood and the surrounding area.

In two eight-hour shifts Friday and Saturday, city police were able to monitor 13,273 vehicles, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said. Police recovered five stolen vehicles, stopped 36 drivers for suspended or revoked licenses, arrested at least three people and generated $11,000 in fines, Zappala said.

“This is something we've been trying to use on an impact basis,” he said. “It's an outstanding result.”

Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said officers used three plate readers mounted on city-owned vehicles in police Zone 5, at Zappala's request.

“(They're) a hundred times faster than what the human eye or human mind can calculate,” Donaldson said.

Public Safety Director Michael Huss said the sweep's tactics were different than how the city will use the new cameras.

“We have certain hot spots in Homewood we believe are contributing to problems in that area,” Huss said. “This is a more focused effort.”

Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze proposed buying about 60 cameras and 45 gunshot sensors for Homewood and its immediate surrounds. Council approved the measure 7-2, with Natalia Rudiak of Carrick and Patrick Dowd of Highland Park voting no.

Rudiak questioned the usefulness of the equipment and objected to earmarking unbudgeted money for it.

“We are borrowing against next year's capital budget without the necessary public process,” she said. “I believe we're setting up a bad habit of drawing down cash that doesn't exist yet.”

Dowd first wants to beef up police ranks in the East End. He has long advocated for more officers in Zone 5, which covers the East End, saying departures and injured officers have depleted the station's ranks.

“Councilman Burgess wants us to believe that (gunshot detectors and cameras) will save lives,” Dowd said. “Until we have adequate staffing levels, we are not going to save lives.”

Burgess has said a string of shootings in April in Homewood, one of which critically wounded a police officer, prompted him to hasten the legislation.

Zappala said he plans to write a letter to City Council supporting the purchase of cameras. He said as the number of police officers declines, cameras can become more of an asset.

“If you don't have the boots on the street, you can still put eyes on the street,” Zappala said.

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed to this report. Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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