Cops: Stats show violent crime down, community outreach working in Pittsburgh | TribLIVE.com
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Cops: Stats show violent crime down, community outreach working in Pittsburgh

Megan Guza
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Megan Guza | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Major Crimes Cmdr. Vic Joseph shows off falling gun violence numbers at an annual review press conference in the City-County Building on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Gun violence in Pittsburgh decreased across the board last year, from homicides to calls for shots fired, city officials said Monday.

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich credited more officers, more technology and more community outreach for the declines.

Homicides fell by 5 percent between 2017 and 2018, from 58 to 55. The number of homicides last year was on track to be down by nearly 25 percent until 11 people were shot and killed inside a Squirrel Hill synagogue in October.

Non-fatal shootings fell 19 percent, from 140 to 114, Hissrich said. Calls reporting gunshots fell by 14 percent, from 2,148 to 1,858.

“Without the community, these numbers would be dramatically higher,” Hissrich said. “Next year, we hope to continue the downward trend, but that will only be done through the help of the community, technology and, most important, the work the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police does day to day.”

Clearance rates — the number of arrests vs. the number of homicides — is up, which officials said is another encouraging number. Of the 55 homicides last year, police cleared 71 percent of them — up from 48 percent last year and higher than at any point in the last five years.

Community relationship building was part of Mayor Bill Peduto’s campaign promise in 2014, said Chief Scott Schubert, but it has become an integral part of the bureau’s identity.

“To us, it’s not a program. It’s who we are,” Schubert said. “And that’s getting out into the community and getting to know the community and being a partner with the community.”

While he’s encouraged by the numbers, Schubert said, work remains.

“One homicide, one shooting is too many,” he said. “We need to think about the victims and their families and what they go through when somebody’s murdered.”

Major Crimes Cmdr. Vic Joseph reiterated that outreach – including the bureau’s Group Violence Intervention Unit – has been crucial to bring down violent crime numbers.

Work on putting together the unit, known as GVI, began in 2015, and it was solidly in place by 2016, Joseph said. Since then, he said, there has been a 40-percent decrease in non-fatal shootings.

The number of other violent crimes – rape, robbery and assault – have also dropped since then, from a combined 2,142 incidents in 2016 to 1,439 incidents as of Dec. 16, according to the most recent 2018 data available.

GVI focuses on reaching out to individuals, particularly young people, who are at risk of victimization or of committing or being involved in crime. Project manager the Rev. Cornell Jones heads up that outreach.

“Our goal is to keep people alive, out of jail and prison, and connect them with resources so they can be successful,” Jones said. “We’re willing to talk with them, and we’ve done it already.”

The intervention can include friends, family members, law enforcement, religious figures and mothers who have lost children to violence, he said.

“We’ve gone to houses of possible shooters, hospitals, schools, even jails to send a message that the violence has to stop,” Jones said.

The unit has mediated situations that would have become fights, and they’ve kept violence from begetting retaliatory violence.

“We’ve seen the fruits of our labor,” he said. “I’ve seen the village working together.”


Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.


Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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