Surveillance system helps police nab shoplifters at Pittsburgh Mills complex
A state-of-the-art surveillance system at the Pittsburgh Mills mall complex in Frazer is helping police crack down on an increase in shoplifters caused by the opioid epidemic, police Chief Terry Kuhns said.
“People who are addicted to opioids are coming up here and stealing items to support their drug habit,” Kuhns told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday.
Kuhns said retail thefts have more than tripled since he took over as chief in July 2013.
Frazer police file between 30 and 50 criminal complaints a month. Of those, 30% are for retail thefts.
Kuhns said his department was one of the first in Allegheny County to receive financial assistance from District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. for a new surveillance system. Since its instillation in March 2017, the system has increased the arrest and conviction rate on shoplifters to almost 90%.
Before that, the rate was 25% to 30% “on a good month,” Kuhns said.
The chief declined to reveal exactly how the system works to prevent potential shoplifters from taking countermeasures but did say, “You can’t enter or leave this mall without us seeing you.”
The department already received money to enhance the system and more upgrades are planned for it in the future, Kuhns said. Walmart and Sam’s Club recently gave the department $12,000 for system upgrades. Zappala also promised the department additional funding.
“We haven’t even reached its full potential as of this date,” Kuhns said of the system.
The system isn’t just used for thwarting shoplifters. Police have used it to help senior citizens find their cars.
Recently, a man was convinced his car had been stolen from the Sam’s Club parking lot. Using the system, police were able to determine it wasn’t.
“We could analyze that the car came in but his vehicle didn’t leave. After about 15 minutes of riding around … we located it. We knew it wasn’t stolen from our advanced system,” Kuhns said.
Part-timers usually work a minimum of four shifts per week. Kuhns said he assigns that number of shifts to part-timers so they are more invested in the department.
“A lot of departments, they’ll hire a lot of part time officers and give each one two, maybe three shifts a week,” Kuhns said. “My concept here is, they get a minimum of four shifts a week, plus their court time, so they’re pretty much like full time. In my belief, I think they’re more invested in the police department rather than just working one or two shifts a week. It makes sense. They’re here almost every day.”
Kuhns said he has a good relationship with township residents. Many have his cell phone number.
“I know everybody. They call me directly,” he said.
He encourages anyone who goes to the mall complex to call police if they see something suspicious.
“It seems like everyone says, ‘I was going to call you. I saw this, but I didn’t want to bother 911.’ That’s why we have the 911 system,” Kuhns said. “Call if you see something, no matter how trivial you think it is. Call us.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, [email protected] or via Twitter .