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Pittsburgh crime prevention effort pushed

| Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

A simple neighborhood watch initiative that organizers said helped reduce crime in Fineview during its first year may be emulated in other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

"We've become porch people," said Melissa Gallagher of the Fineview Citizens Council and block captain for its block watch program. "People are walking the neighborhood. They call it the 'strolling patrol.'"

The concept is not new. It's been around since crime watch programs were started in the 1980s to give police an extra set of eyes and ears on the streets.

Neighbors walk the neighborhood for an hour or so every week, Gallagher said. They bring their dogs and often take notes, marking the location of street lights that are out or vacant houses.

The idea struck a nerve at a meeting Saturday of the Pittsburgh Safe Neighborhoods Network held in the Hill District offices of Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group.

In Pittsburgh, incidents of violent crime -- murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- dropped from 1,598 during the first six months of 2009 to 1,410 during the same period last year, the FBI said.

The walking program is something Terry Aiello, Bloomfield's Mainstreet manager, would like to see happen in her neighborhood.

"I personally do that. My husband and I walk the neighborhood for exercise," she said. "We're a walking neighborhood. If they do it with a different vision, it could make a difference."

Tom Corcoran of California-Kirkbride said he planned to talk up the idea.

"It's something we really want to take a look at," he said.

Guest speaker Khalif Ali, outreach case manager at Pittsburgh Community Services Inc., or PCSI, said residents who establish a presence in their neighborhoods send a signal to criminals.

"Have block parties, be out on your porches," he said. "That makes criminals uncomfortable."

PCSI has been contracted by the city as the service provider for the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, a coordinated effort to reduce violent crime and homicide in Pittsburgh by opening the lines of communication between law enforcement agencies, social service agencies and community members.

For residents such as Melissa Gallagher, the success of the strolling patrols has been "awesome."

"We took back the neighborhood," she said.

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