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Crime most pressing problemin Pittsburgh, polled voters say

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Reported crimes in Pittsburgh increased last year for the first time since at least 2002, highlighting concerns of likely voters who said crime is the city's biggest problem.

The police bureau received 13,625 reports of crime, ranging from homicide to drunken driving in 2012, a 6 percent increase over 2011. Although the total number of reported crimes increased, violent offenses — homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — decreased by 4.4 percent.

Bureau spokeswoman Diane Richard said that theft reports, which increased by 870, were the biggest driver of the increase.

A Tribune-Review poll conducted this month found that 19 percent of likely Democratic voters in the May 21 primary — the largest segment polled — believe crime is the city's most important problem. The economy was cited second most often, by 13 percent of respondents.

“Nowadays, you're afraid to sit on your own porch,” said Shirley Kimbo, 78, of the Hill District. “People are afraid to go out. You're afraid to go out in the daytime.”

Susquehanna Polling & Research of Harrisburg polled 400 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. Democrats represent 73 percent of city voters, according to the Allegheny County Division of Elections.

Recent shootings in Homewood highlight Kimbo's fears.

Gunfire erupted on Thursday between city officers and a fleeing suspect on Apple Street. Officer Morgan Jenkins and the suspect, James Robert Hill, 24, of Homewood, were critically wounded. On Wednesday, one person died and four were wounded during two shooting incidents in Homewood.

The four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor said the city must be more proactive in addressing crime. They are Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze; community activist AJ Richardson, 36, of Sheraden; former Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview; and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District.

Peduto, Wagner and Richardson vowed to put officers on beats in violent neighborhoods. Wheatley said he would assign special police units to attack crime-ridden areas.

However, an expert in crime and social behavior said police action won't stop root causes of crime.

“Police departments cannot change unemployment,” said Tony Gaskew, director of the Criminal Forensic Studies Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

“Police departments cannot change generations of segregation,” he said. “Police departments cannot change economic disparity, educational disparities, substance abuse.”

Kimbo said that when she was growing up in the Hill District, police walked a beat and people felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked at night. She said she and her daughter were sitting on her porch one day last year when someone in a car threw a firecracker at them for no reason.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith of Westwood, chairwoman of council's public safety committee, said crime rates mean little to residents who are victimized.

“If you're living next to a drug dealer, that's the reality you live,” she said. “Perception is reality.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who is not running for re-election, agreed.

“We will continue to work with dedicated community members to help drive down our city's crime rates even further,” he said in a prepared statement.

Staff writer Mike Wereschagin contributed to this report. Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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