POLICE CHIEF CAMERON McLAY
Even as he marked completing his first year as Pittsburgh’s police chief, Cameron McLay again found himself joined by Mayor Bill Peduto holding a press briefing about community violence in the wake of a spike in shootings across the city.
“We know this is more than a police issue, or a crime issue,” said Peduto. “This is a trauma issue. It not only affects the victims but their families, the perpetrators’ families, and the community.”
The trauma of latest spate of shootings has been heightened by the ages of some of the victims killed—three under the age of twenty; 15-year-old Curtis Pounds from Knoxville, 14-year-old DeSean Fountain from East Liberty and 22-month-old Josiah Taylor from Fineview.
Despite this, McLay said the number of fatal shootings is down from last year and on par with the 10-year average. Non-fatal shootings, however are up from last year. Overall, violent crime is down.
“We’re not nearly at the epidemic rate we see in other cities, but it’s still an all-hands-on-deck emergency,” he said. “We need a unified response from the community, from families, clergy, that this violence must stop. And I want to acknowledge Tim Stevens and B-PEP for bringing people together to do that yesterday.”
Stevens’ meeting included leaders from 20 separate community, faith, human service and anti-violence organizations from across Allegheny County. All met at Freedom Unlimited in the Hill District to decry that “violent rhetoric” behind shootings across the country and to call for united action to stop the violence in local communities.
“One thing we want to make very clear to anyone who wonders, this ongoing violence within our neighborhoods and communities is absolutely unacceptable,” said Stevens. “We are collectively, once again calling upon all persons who have committed, and those who are contemplating any acts of violence, to please think twice, and then think again, about how their acts of violence affect the loved ones of those who are shot and/or killed, and the profoundly negative affects upon themselves, their futures and the community at large.
“We call upon parents, grandparents and relatives who have people in their families who they know or suspect might be involved in violent and/or illegal activities which may be putting their families and communities at risk, to at least attempt to direct their loved ones in another direction.”
With such partnerships, McLay said the bureau is heading in the right trajectory toward a major reduction in violence. A lot of that is because the bureau is slowly rebuilding trust with people in Black neighborhoods where the bulk of the violence is contained.
“They are beginning to call us, give us tips, and its paying off,” he said. “We can do our job perfectly, and it wouldn’t be enough because we can’t do this alone.”
He added the bureau’s focus on getting better data on crimes, hotspots, players and groups is also beginning to pay off. Assistant Chief Scott Schubert told of two officers on surveillance duty in the Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood that witnessed a shooting and arrested the suspects.
“They weren’t there by accident,” he said. “They looked at the information they had, and they were there when it occurred.”
Major Crimes Cmdr. Larry Scirotto fleshed out some of the statistics, noting that the bureau’s interactive website on violent crime has now been updated through July. Homicides are down 18 percent from last year, non-fatal shootings are up 4 percent.
The bureau is also clearing more cases—48 percent instead of 44 percent last year, thanks largely to a consolidation of departments that resulted in 32 officers investigating major crimes instead of just 17 working only homicides.
“We’re moving upward, but below 50 percent is still not satisfactory,” he said.
McLay also acknowledged the lack of personnel is an issue.
“Do we have enough officers to meet the demands of the city? No, we don’t,” he said.
Peduto said he and city council are working to get a training facility large enough to run two classes simultaneously to address the shortage, nearly 60 fewer officers than the 900 required. The current class of recruits—who had been displaced from a class for the press conference—listened from the back of the room. Of the 24 cadets, seven are Black males and three are women.
This week, McLay and several officers, along with members of the clergy, the Peduto administration and community stakeholders are visiting John Jay College in New York City to meet with Professor David Kennedy and police officials from other municipalities before rolling out a new Targeted Deterrence Initiative in January.
Asked what was missing that required the delay, McLay said he didn’t know.
“We aren’t ready. But we are ahead of schedule,” he said, as to what is missing. “I’m not sure. That’s why we’re going back to school—because we don’t know what we don’t know.”
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