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Audit sought of Pittsburgh anti-crime initiative

| Wednesday, April 7, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

City officials want to see what has been done with $200,000 approved for a crime-fighting initiative before earmarking more money for the program.

The long-delayed Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, announced in September 2008 by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Ricky Burgess, aims to reduce crime by up to 50 percent. But some members of council are questioning how much progress has been made.

"It's been 18 months," said Councilman Bruce Kraus, who on Tuesday called for the City Controller's Office to conduct an audit of the program. "This is not about absentee landlords. ... This is about bodies in the street. This is about life and death."

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have been mapping gang activity throughout the city. Once complete, the program will allow gang members to become advocates for the police department in exchange for jobs and social services.

Although council members in October 2008 approved $200,000 for the program, the contracts were not officially completed until late last year, Burgess said. The money was used as start-up funds for the program.

Burgess said Jay Gilmer, PIRC's coordinator, is "quietly assembling all the pieces" needed to begin the program "soon." Gilmer, hired in June at an annual salary of $45,000, was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.

Burgess yesterday introduced legislation to allocate another $200,000 to the program. Today, he plans to introduce legislation that would reimburse the project's lead architect, Professor David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, for $7,000 worth of travel and business expenses. Kennedy declined to comment on the expenses.

Councilwoman Theresa Smith said such public safety initiatives are often "a waste of money" and called for a yet-to-be scheduled public hearing on both the PIRC program and the city's seldom-used juvenile curfew center.

Despite reduced homicide rates -- down from 70 in 2008 to 38 last year, according to police records -- Burgess said there's still room for improvement and a need for the initiative.

"They have been reduced, but any number of homicides is too many," he said.

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