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Residents and business owners want a curfew and more enforcement to curb South Side violence

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

South Side residents and business owners called for a curfew for underage people, stronger enforcement of parking laws and police presence outside “problem bars” to curb rising crime in the neighborhood during a meeting on Tuesday with Pittsburgh and public safety officials.

The meeting was the latest in a series launched by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey earlier this summer in response to neighborhood concerns about an increase in gun violence, property damage and other illegal activity centered mostly along East Carson Street.

Dozens of people joined the virtual meeting, which lasted more than two hours. Many blamed underage loitering and partying in the area, as well as bar-goers parking in and disrupting the peace in residential areas.

Some said they worry that Pittsburgh Bureau of Police officers assigned to the South Side on the weekends may not be enough or may lack resources to adequately control the crowds. Police Cmdr. John Fisher, who oversees the Zone 3 station, said 15 officers typically patrol the South Side.

“The issues are not just on East Carson Street,” said neighborhood resident Jacky Kaiser. “Residents off of East Carson Street are feeling the brunt of this as well, whether they’re a block off or four blocks off. It is rolling through the neighborhood at a very fast clip.”

Some business owners, including Club Cafe owner Michael Sanders, said they were considering closing their establishments in response to the problems around them.

Sanders also pushed back against comments City Councilor Bruce Kraus, who represents the area, made in June to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Shortly after owners of the Fudge Farm shop cited gun violence as one reason the company closed its South Side location, Kraus estimated that “nearly half” of the visitors to the South Side carry weapons.

“I just don’t know where that [estimation] comes from,” Sanders said. “And I think that feeds into the narrative of how unsafe Club Cafe is. The very next day, we had five shows cancel,” he said.

Kraus said he stands by his estimate, which he said came from “interactions with police officers over a number of years.”

Amanda Bundy, another South Side resident and business owner, said her car was damaged by gunfire early Sunday morning. The incident was just one of a list of concerns she shared.

“I’m dealing with low business because of the bad publicity, the lack of citations that need to be done in order to get these problem bars closed [and] my son can’t go to the swimming pool and feel safe . . . I’m basically getting slapped in every direction in my favorite neighborhood,” Bundy said. “I’m really scared about losing this neighborhood.”

According to Fisher, city police received 140 calls for service within the East Carson Street area — between 10th and 18th streets as well as adjacent side streets and parking lots — during the past six weeks. Police made eight arrests and issued 55 traffic violations, 66 parking citations and 22 summary citations during that period. They also seized 10 firearms. They have not arrested the person who shot at Bundy’s car.

Fisher also noted that police currently lack manpower. At this time last year, 30 officers were stationed in the South Side — double the number currently assigned there, he said.

Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said his department is working with the city Department of Mobility and Infrastructure to install more cameras and extra lighting on the South Side. Public Safety officials also are working with the city parking authority to encourage people to leave the neighborhood when the bars close, and with city lawyers to review how police might effectively enforce existing curfew laws.

“We believe the stronger police presence has helped, similar to last year. And we will continue to monitor the situation with intel and the commander consistently,” Schmitt said, adding that police will “increase the force as needed.”

“I do see good things on the horizon,” Kraus said. “But if we are going to circumvent what is taking place in the public space, it begins with the clientele that we know specific businesses are inviting to the street.”

South Side bar owner Brian Vetere said there are a few “little things” the city could do to improve the situation.

“I think with the hookah bars, if you close them down at [2 a.m.], that would solve a lot of the problems. I think if you get rid of three, four of the bad bars, that would solve a lot of the problems,” Vetere said.

Kraus said addressing that problem may require state and other officials to work together to revoke liquor licenses from establishments that have been linked to violent incidents.

“One of the surefire ways to have an alcohol license revoked or an establishment shuttered is to have an act of violence take place within the property,” he said. “Nine times out of 10, you’ll find that the district attorney’s office will shutter that business.”

Kraus estimated that during his decades in office, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office revoked between 13 and 15 “problematic alcohol licenses.”

The South Side Planning Forum, which hosted Tuesday’s meeting, will have another meeting on Aug. 9.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at