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Killings decline in Hill District area

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 11:43 p.m.

Redevelopment of a problematic section of the Hill District might have led to a drop in homicides in the central police zone of Pittsburgh in 2013, a police official said.

There were four homicides — down from nine in 2012 — in Zone 2, which includes Lawrenceville, Uptown, the Hill District and Downtown, according to police statistics.

“Elmore Square was torn down,” Cmdr. Eric Holmes said. “These were some of our historically troubled areas.”

The quarter-mile span of the Addison Terrace housing complex around Elmore Square was the scene of 10 homicides between 2006 and 2009, according to data from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office. More than 400 new public housing units are planned for the site.

Carl Redwood, chairman of the Hill District Consensus Group, said he thinks neighborhood block watches have helped curb violence.

“Residents on the block level are being more attentive of what's going on,” Redwood said. “That's the most important thing. The other thing is the police really focus their efforts where there tended to be more crime.”

Holmes began a four-month targeted enforcement patrol after an increase in calls for shots fired in the Bedford Dwellings public housing complex in the Hill last summer. Police made more than 90 arrests, he said.

“We think that put a damper on the crime because we were up there,” Holmes said.

There were 46 homicides across Pittsburgh in 2013, up from 42 in 2012, according to the medical examiner. There were 91 countywide in 2013, down from 96 in 2012.

The East End neighborhoods that make up the Zone 5 police district led the city in the number of homicides for the second year. There were 17 in 2012 in the zone, which includes Homewood, East Liberty, Garfield and Larimer, and 24 in 2013.

Two city police officers also were seriously wounded in shootings in Zone 5, Christopher Kertis on March 17 and Morgan Jenkins on April 11.

“We at Zone 5 take this personally,” said Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor, who oversees the Highland Park station. “To say we don't have a stake in curtailing this violence would be a mistake because we do. It's right at our doorstep.”

O'Connor attributed much of the violence to illegal gun possession. He said Zone 5 officers arrested more than 100 people for illegally possessing a firearm each year for the past four years.

“It averages out to arresting someone every three days,” O'Connor said. “We've had a very active year. The levels of violence and the number of people carrying firearms is very great, despite our efforts to counteract that.”

He hopes new technology, including cameras and a gunshot detection system, will help deter crime and identify criminals.

City police cleared — meaning they solved or otherwise resolved — 24 of the 46 homicides in 2013, Major Crimes Lt. Kevin Kraus said. They cleared four homicides from previous years, so the department's clearance rate for 2013 as reported to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report will be 61 percent. The average homicide clearance rate in the U.S. in 2012 was 62.5 percent, according to the FBI.

“The most important thing is continuing to strive to enhance the relationship with the community,” Kraus said. “We don't use the lack of cooperation as an excuse, but it's important to enhance those relationships.”

Allegheny County Police cleared 31 of the 45 homicides they investigated in 2013, or 69 percent, Lt. Andrew Schurman said. That was up from 33 of 54 homicides in 2012, or 61 percent, although Schurman could not say why.

“The mechanics of the investigation are the same,” he said. “I don't want to say the level of cooperation has changed, because it hasn't.”

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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