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Pittsburgh police to step up walking patrols to help combat wave of violence

James Knox | Trib Total Media
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto points out the recent homicides on a map in the mayor's conference room Moday, Aug. 4, 2014. Peduto held a news conference in the City-County Building, Downtown, with Public Safety Director Stephen A. Bucar, acting police Chief Regina McDonald and others to address an increase in city homicides this spring and summer.

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By Margaret Harding
Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, 1:06 p.m.

Pittsburgh police will step up patrols in the city's eastern neighborhoods to combat an uptick in homicides, many of which appear to be drug-related, officials said on Monday.

Homicide detectives were closing in on a suspect in one of several recent shootings in a North Side public housing complex, officials said.

Police Lt. Daniel Herrmann said police know “key actors” in a shooting on Wednesday that killed one man and injured another in the Northview Heights housing complex.

“We need more information to pull people off the street,” Herrmann said. “We know some of the key actors, but we don't have enough to get a warrant yet.”

City officials at a news conference announced beat patrols in response to the increase in killings and urged people to cooperate with investigators.

“We know people are afraid, but at some point … we need to take back those communities,” acting police Chief Regina McDonald said.

Herrmann said the Northview Heights shooting appeared to have some connection to drugs, and a fatal shooting in the housing complex on Friday seemed to stem from a dispute between two people. Investigators haven't found anything that indicates the shootings are connected.

Detectives were back at the housing complex investigating the death of James Nelson, 33, whose body was found there on Sunday night. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office has not ruled on the cause of death of the Perry South resident, but police are treating it as suspicious.

The latest shooting occurred shortly after 11:30 p.m. Monday when a 24-year-old man was reportedly shot in the back in the 2400 block of Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. He was taken to UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.

McDonald said police are working with the Pittsburgh Housing Authority to increase security. A spokeswoman for the housing authority declined to comment.

“There's no rhyme or reason” to the shootings, Herr-mann said.

Police investigated 11 homicides in the city in July, bringing the number to 44 this year. That compares with 46 total in 2013 and a 10-year average of 52 homicides.

McDonald said three detectives were assigned to the homicide squad to fill vacancies, and police have solved 18 of the 44 cases.

In addition to shootings in Northview Heights, one man was found shot to death in Homewood on Thursday morning, and a shooting outside a Strip District bar early on Saturday killed a man and injured five.

The shooting in the Strip appeared to stem from an argument between two groups of motorcyclists, Herrmann said. Detectives reviewed surveillance video from inside and outside the bar and identified a “primary target,” but they want to interview more people, he said.

A warrant has been issued for Zachary Threats, 36, who is known to frequent the North Side, East End neighborhoods and McKees Rocks, Herrmann said. He is charged with the July 4 slaying of Kaamil Arnold, 30, who was gunned down in a Homewood kitchen where he was preparing food for a holiday cookout.

Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar said it's tough to determine the reason for the increase in homicides but said many are related to drugs. City police are working with federal and state agencies on long-term drug investigations. Bucar said more beat patrols will begin to address the problem in the short term.

Thirteen new officers will patrol eastern neighborhoods that make up the Zone 5 police district beginning next week, McDonald said. They are recruits who went through expedited training at the police academy because they had experience at other departments, McDonald said.

“The idea is for them to get to know the community and for the community to get to know the officers,” McDonald said.

Seventeen homicides happened in Zone 5, where 20 shootings have occurred and five people were killed since June 1, Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor said. Two juveniles were hurt in a shooting in Lincoln-Lemington on Sunday, he said. O'Connor said he will put beat officers in Homewood and Garfield to deal with quality-of-life issues such as prostitution, public drinking and open drug use.

Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Staff writer Michael Hasch contributed.

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