Pittsburgh police's graffiti squad to be disbanded
By Margaret Harding
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pittsburgh police acting Chief Regina McDonald plans to disband the department's graffiti squad this month.
The unit's three detectives will be transferred to the Hill District and Highland Park stations beginning April 29, according to a notice from McDonald dated Friday.
She did not respond to messages seeking comment. City leaders and community members called the decision a mistake.
“It will be needed again in the future, and it will just have to be re-formed,” said Councilman Bill Peduto, a candidate for mayor. “It would be best to just keep it rather than having to re-establish it. It will end up costing us more money to try to bring it back.”
City Public Safety Director Michael Huss and a spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl did not return messages.
Detective Frank Rende, a member of the squad, will remain detailed to the Warrant Office. McDonald moved him there while the Office of Municipal Investigations reviews his arrest of a St. Patrick's Day reveler in the South Side that was captured on video.
The graffiti squad began in 2006 and made a number of high-profile arrests, including members of Pittsburgh's Most Wanted Graffiti Vandals Ian de Beer and Daniel J. Montano. Montano was sentenced in 2008 to 2½ to five years in prison and ordered to pay $232,582, and de Beer was sentenced in 2010 to one to three years in prison and ordered to pay more than $45,000 in restitution..
According to the police department's annual report, the graffiti squad made 10 arrests and secured $11,899 in restitution in 2011. Statistics from 2012 were not available.
“From working with them, not only was their work successful, but their work was appreciated in the neighborhoods,” Peduto said.
The task force helped community organizations start anti-graffiti groups, said Steve Root, a member of the South Side Community Council's Graffiti Watch, which formed in 2007.
“In my opinion, what they've done is invaluable,” Root said. “I think that's helped with the quality of life in Pittsburgh, or at least in the South Side. … I'm really upset about this. I think it's a big mistake.”
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or email@example.com.
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