Mayor Gainey cuts trip short after homicide death of 4-year-old, stabbing and BB gun shooting
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey cut short a trip by two days to address the increased violence that has continued to plague the city during his first year in office.
At 3 a.m. Friday, police responded to a woman who was shot in the stomach and leg in Homewood. Then at 5:30 a.m., a man was stabbed in the neck in Beltzhoover.
And on Friday afternoon, police announced that metal shrapnel had been found in the body of a man who they initially believed had died of an overdose earlier this week in an alley Downtown: Police later obtained video footage of the man, identified as Christopher Gaylor, 50, being shot with a BB gun. No arrests have been made in connection with that man's death, although police said they have identified people seen in the video.
Those incidents followed the death of Kaari Thompson, a 4-year-old who was shot and killed Thursday in Lincoln-Lemington — the 67th homicide reported this year in Pittsburgh. Thompson is one of 14 children aged 18 and younger to have been killed this year in the city.
A woman with her, Temani Lewis, 21, also was shot and critically wounded, police said. She died on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at UPMC Presbyterian. No arrests have been made in that shooting.
“I rushed back home today just due to the last 24 hours of incidents that have hit our city,” Gainey said during an address in his office Friday evening.
The mayor called on the entire community, including the media, to help in apprehending the people responsible for these crimes. The mayor acknowledged that, despite his best efforts, the city does not have enough police officers right now.
“No one's going to stop it except for us. We're the ones that's out there making sure that the community is safe,” he said. “I'm talking about government, police, neighborhoods, community leaders, faith-based [organizations]. It’s going to take all of us until we solve this issue.”
The mayor blamed a lack of police officers on a previous hiring freeze, and he said the city is working to address the problem by training two new classes of police officers — one class of veterans who have worked in other communities and one class of new officers.
“I understand that we don't have enough officers. I see that’s been well-publicized,” he said. “But we have to do what we have to do right now with the sufficient supply that we have.”
At a budget hearing Thursday, city and police officials reported that the bureau is struggling to replace officers who are leaving the force at a faster pace than the city can hire and train new officers.
Police officials on Thursday reported that the city has lost 76 officers so far in 2022, leaving the force with 836. But only eight recruits made it through the preliminary stages for the academy’s current class of experienced officers, according to Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt.
That’s considerably less than the bureau anticipated. Schmidt said other officers were filtered out by the city’s extensive background-check process.
The class of new officers won’t start training until next summer. The training academy course lasts about 11 months.
In his remarks Friday night, the mayor pointed to several programs in his new budget that he believes will help to address some violence that has involved young people Downtown. The city is adding an ambassador program to talk with young people who are congregating Downtown. It also creates a new position within city parks to help young people get involved in athletics.
Also, the mayor pointed out that the city is starting a new program to hire young people as interns to learn about how the mayor’s office works.
“We know that there's a bigger situation that we have to address, and that's how we create more after-school activities for them. We're working on that,” he said.
Gainey said that his approach to police-community relations is helping. “We're getting more information from people in our neighborhoods than ever before,” he said.
But the mayor blamed the violence on the proliferation of guns. “A kid can get a gun like they can get potato chips,” he said.
He also pointed to problems that children may have developed while staying at home during the pandemic, and he said that kids — including his own — are exposed to too much violence in music and video games such as Fortnite.
The mayor said that one of his main areas of focus — trying to narrowly target the small minority of people who perpetrate violence — won’t be effective on its own.
“You could take out three, and three more come back … It's the cycle we have to break,” he said. “There's always somebody willing to step up and take their place. And so it's a continuation of: How do we try to get to them before they get to that level?”