By Anthony Mendicino, Point Park News Service:
Final plans for the Carrick Crime Blitz were outlined recently, targeting 42 properties for possible condemnation or seizure as local citizens and law enforcement say they have been at the center of crime in the community.
Representatives from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office as well as local law enforcement met with Carrick residents and block watch members to share their final plans for the blitz and pegged Thursday, Sept. 10 as its start date.
City officials said the six-week program will use resources from both the local community and city to clean up properties that have been linked to crime or that have become an eyesore to local residents.
“Just look out the window: It’s a problem,” Gordon W. Sullivan of the Spencer Avenue block watch said. “The main thing is just getting involved. Just call the police. It’s that easy.”
Crime has been an issue in the community for several years, but the cancellation of the St. Basil Parish Festival in late July pushed locals over the edge. The festival was promptly canceled after police were called to respond to fights and overcrowding.
No arrests were made, but the incident was enough to spur action.
Many local residents became fed up with the crime and asked the city to do something about it. The city’s response was a public safety blitz encompassing all of the city’s public safety and public works departments.
With help from community leaders and block watch members, residents identified and reported abandoned or run down properties that have been promoting crime in the area.
“The first step was collecting data, which we did so by gathering as much community input as possible,” Lex Janes, deputy director of the city’s Office of Community Affairs said.
“Even up to last week we were still collecting information,” Janes said.
That information was given to the Department of Innovation and Performance. The department then began to “compile a large database and analyzed that data to sort out properties that had the most outstanding issues,” Janes added. Issues ranging from overgrowth to drug use and condemned properties were covered.
According to Janes, Peduto and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak originally committed to focusing on 12 properties during the blitz. But because community members worked hard to find all questionable properties that number has risen to 42.
“There’s been such a breadth of community input that we wanted to make it as effective as possible and as impactful as possible,” Janes said. Multiple departments including the police will investigate the finalized list of properties.
While no specific property locations were given, six of the 42 are found along Brownsville Road.
Departments will be using a “report card” consisting of the address of the property, a picture, owner name, owner address, tax status and violations. The corresponding department will handle violations: For example, overgrowth would be handled by Public Works while the police would handle drug use.
Concerns specific to the police were handed over to Zone 3 Commander Karen Dixon.
When the meeting was opened for questions, residents expressed concerns to Dixon. Chiefly among those concerns was the influx of drugs in the community.
“I cannot get rid of drugs,” Dixon said. “I just can’t. We move it and displace it, then we displace it again and move it again.”
“Drugs are the biggest problem,” Sullivan, the block watch volunteer, said. “If you clean up the neighborhood and houses, you can clean up the drugs.”
Residents also brought up the fear of retaliation from the offenders that are turned in.
Dixon noted that she deals with drug arrests everyday and believes retaliation should not be a problem.
“We’re going to make some people unhappy because we are focusing on areas that they may have felt comfortable in that they shouldn’t feel comfortable, ever, in,” Dixon said.
After the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Zone 3 Community Relations Officer Christine Luffy gave the local crime report, saying that the summer has been rough for residents in Carrick. She also offered some encouraging news.
“What I want to say, and I know I’ve said it before, but what I want you to know is that I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for fighting for Carrick,” Luffy said.
She then read the crowd a list of “victories we had over the summer.”
She reported police arrests or investigations within the community in an attempt to stem the tide of narcotics and prostitution.
After giving the crime report, Luffy praised her boss, Dixon, saying, “She’s a hard worker. She’s a wonderful person. She’s good to the officers, and she truly cares about the communities.”
Cheryl Veatch of the Kirk Avenue block watch said she believes the blitz will work.
“Ever since the Mayor got involved, now I come to every meeting,” Veatch said.
Dixon said that the community involvement makes the police’s job much easier.
“This is a phenomenal community group,” Dixon said. “My other zones, when they see that I’ve been to this meeting, they ask me, ‘Was there really 120 people?’”
The next community watch meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Concord School.
This story was published by the South Pittsburgh Reporter.