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Overall crime down, thefts up in Shadyside

| Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010

Despite two brazen heists at a Walnut Street jewelry store and several car break-ins this month, overall crime dropped over the past four years in Shadyside, Pittsburgh police officials say.

An increase in thefts in the trendy East End neighborhood could be due to neighbors and visitors relying on a false sense of security in what is usually seen as a safe community, said Dennis Downey, public safety chair for the Shadyside Action Coalition.

"We find that people just don't think anything of leaving their shiny new laptop in the back seat of their car, or leaving their car unlocked and running in front of their house to warm it up in the morning, because they feel like Shadyside is a very safe place," Downey said. "And it is, but people will take advantage of crimes of opportunity."

Two highly publicized crimes at the neighborhood's Henne Jewelers this month -- a daylight robbery by two masked men and a middle-of-the night burglary in which a man drove a vehicle through the front door -- don't reflect a spike in crime, police said.

City crime statistics show reports of robbery, motor vehicle theft, simple assault, disorderly conduct, sex offenses and vandalism decreased in recent years. Thefts increased from 430 in 2008 to 548 in 2009; police said many of those were from vehicles. More car break-ins were reported this month, but crime statistics for January aren't available.

Police Lt. Richard Reilly said Shadyside always has been a "hot spot" for criminals looking to break into cars, snatch purses from distracted people or prey on people shopping and dining in what is perceived to be an upscale area.

"We've arrested guys who tell us they specifically look for young college kids, women on cell phones and people who might have money and aren't paying attention," Reilly said.

Plainclothes officers are working the Walnut Street business district to deal with a recent increase in reports of valuables being swiped from vehicles there.

Reilly said younger people and those who move to Shadyside from suburban areas often forget the neighborhood is still in an urban setting.

Cindy Tilson, who moved to Shadyside from Sewickley 18 months ago, wrote a letter to neighbors this month warning them to be careful after she and her husband had items stolen from their vehicles twice. She said other residents also complained of problems with theft.

"We admit that our doors were unlocked, so we felt it was our fault, and we were embarrassed, so we didn't even call the police," Tilson said. "We maybe felt it was a neighborhood where we didn't have to worry about that, so I guess there's been a little bit of a learning curve for us."

Downey said his group encourages anyone who has a problem or sees anything suspicious to call 911.

"Even if you think it's nothing major and you worry you'll be bothering the police, call anyway and let them decide," Downey said.

Officer Matt White, who handles community policing for the area, said people who live in or visit Shadyside need to take basic precautions. He recommends walking in a group and sticking to well-lit areas. Always lock the doors of your car and house and lock belongings in your vehicle's trunk or take them with you. If you have a security alarm at your home, use it, and consider installing outside lighting.

A rise in aggravated assaults in Shadyside -- from 15 in 2008 to 23 last year -- was mostly due to fights in bars along Walnut Street, Reilly said. Uniformed, off-duty officers work at those bars, and the charges often come when officers are shoved or struck by unruly patrons, Reilly said.

Alice Jaffe, who lives in nearby Squirrel Hill and has shopped along Walnut Street for decades, said she never feels unsafe.

"Compared to other areas, it really is not dangerous over here," Jaffe said. "You just have to be smart, use common sense."

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