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Responses sought on Zone 4 closure

| Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2003, 12:00 p.m.

Community leaders in Pittsburgh's southern and western neighborhoods urged residents Monday night to write and call city officials to protest the planned layoffs of 731 municipal workers.

"There are alternatives and we need to make sure the city administration listens to them," Bob Hillen, president of the Zone 4 Public Safety Council, told more than 100 people who crowded into a Brookline church last night.

The meeting was called to organize a response to Mayor Tom Murphy's plan to shut down the Zone 4 police station in the West End.

About three dozen residents spoke out against Murphy's budget cuts, which include the elimination of 102 police officers. Most spoke about what they consider a threat to public safety.

"If you take those officers off the street, we're in deep trouble," Brookline District Justice Charles McLaughlin said.

Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. announced the closing of the Zone 4 station last week.

The 18 western and southern neighborhoods patrolled by officers working from Zone 4 will move into the area protected by Zone 3 in the South Side. Three historically low-crime neighborhoods south of Hazelwood -- New Homestead, Hays and Lincoln Place -- move to the new Zone 4 station in Squirrel Hill.

The reorganization makes Zone 3 the largest of the five remaining police patrol districts, and crime statistics show that it will be the busiest. Over the past three years, the neighborhoods in the zone have averaged 5,153 serious crimes reported, almost 20 percent more than Zone 5 in East Liberty.

McNeilly has said the station closure is necessary to reduce administrative positions and "streamline" the department.

About 100 of the city's 1,017 officers will be eliminated Friday. McNeilly previously said that all officers assigned to Zones 3 and 4 who have not been laid off will stay in the new Zone 3. There were about 150 officers in the two zones as of July 24.

The city formed the zone public safety councils when the police bureau was last reorganized in 1986, consolidating nine stations into six. They give residents a chance to speak directly with police officials at regular community meetings.

The public discussion of the police station closing will continue at 6 p.m. today when City Council conducts a hearing at the City-County Building, Downtown.

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