Police begin South Side blitz to restore order in Pittsburgh's popular nightlife area

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Weaving through dancing couples and drinking patrons, Pittsburgh fire Capt. James Flaherty checked Rumshakers on East Carson Street in the South Side for any problem spots.

The bar, about a third full just after 1 a.m. Saturday, had its occupancy permit posted above the bar. Flaherty filled out the checklist, and then his group of Pittsburgh police officers, firefighters and building inspectors moved on to the next bar as part of a law enforcement blitz Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl ordered for the South Side.

“We'll be here as long as it takes,” Ravenstahl said near the command post on Ninth Street near Carson. “What we think is most appropriate is to bring order to the South Side.”

He estimated roughly two dozen extra police officers combed the alley ways focused on parking enforcement and finding people urinating in public while six teams of police, firefighters and building inspectors checked bars along Carson Street for code violations. No bars were beyond occupancy, and officials said the cold night was a quiet one for the South Side.

“For the first night, nothing surprises me,” said Patrick Brown, a senior building inspector for BBI. “I think everybody was well-aware the compliance checks were coming.”

Ravenstahl anticipated more difficulties on Saturday night and Sunday morning because of the opening of hockey season.

Drunken revelers squealed at the sight of police dogs, but the officers' presence also had a calming influence. One girl slapped another outside of S Bar, but before it could escalate, a third pointed to Sgt. Michael LaPorte, who was standing nearby as part of a bar detail. The two girls quickly made up.

“The police presence in and of itself helps,” said LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1. “When they see police when they walk in, they think twice about acting up.”

Corey Webber, 22, of Ross, who was walking along Carson Street, said he thought the enforcement was overdue.

“There's been so many incidents, I think this should've been happening a long time ago,” Webber said.

Both Webber and Meghan Huber, 22, of Baldwin said they would not be deterred from frequenting the South Side bar scene.

“I think it will help prevent people from coming down here who want to cause trouble,” Huber said.

The city should address other problems in the South Side, such as transportation and the availability of public restrooms, in addition to the rowdy crowds, said Dave Szczencki, 26, of Shadyside.

“They have a public toilet, but it's closed,” Szczencki said. “If they're going to step up safety, they should give people legal outlets to take care of what they need to.”

Ravenstahl said he could not estimate a cost of the blitz, but he said it will continue indefinitely.

“Cost is not going to be an issue,” the mayor said. “We're going to spend what we need to spend to take care of the problem.”

The mayor's office announced that from 10:30 p.m. Friday to 2:30 a.m. Saturday there were 19 arrests, 94 traffic citations, 42 towed vehicles and 14 non-traffic citations.

In the overnight Saturday sweep, officials checked 39 bars and found two code violations, the mayor's office. The office reported seven arrests, 64 traffic citations, 34 towed vehicles and 16 non-traffic citations.

Court records indicated that at least three people were charged with drug offenses.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519or mharding@tribweb.com. Staff writers Bill Vidonic and Rick Wills contributed to this report.

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