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South Side business owners, police say plans to reduce violence are working

Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Larry Scirotto speaks into news microphones in front of the bar at Mario's South Side Saloon.
Julia Zenkevich
90.5 WESA
Residents and business owners on Pittsburgh's South Side raised concerns about increasing crime last year. After assigning more officers to the neighborhood during peak entertainment hours, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Larry Scirotto says crimes are decreasing.

Efforts to curb violence and disruption on Pittsburgh’s South Side are working, business owners and public safety officials said Tuesday.

South Side — particularly the busy East Carson Street business district — has garnered a reputation as one of the more chaotic parts of the city. Residents and business owners have shared concerns about a spike in crime and unruly behavior in the neighborhood after pandemic restrictions were lifted. Some argued that so-called “problem bars” allowed crowds to congregate outside establishments in the early morning hours.

Last summer, more than a year after residents requested an increased police presence in the area, Pittsburgh Public Safety officials announced the return of a “South Side Entertainment Patrol” dedicated to Carson Street. Ten officers and one sergeant patrol the area from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.

“As a business owner, it's had a monumental effect on the [South Side] Flats since its inception,” said John DeMauro, owner of The Urban Tap.

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DeMauro and nine other business owners formed the South Side Hospitality Partnership last summer. It’s just one of the community groups formed in the wake of a few violent incidents in the neighborhood. Members meet regularly to discuss how business owners might themselves address problems.

DeMauro said the group created guidelines for how local businesses should operate that has helped reduce crime and violence. He credited a shared ID system that notifies participating businesses when a bar bans a disruptive customer.

According to police Sgt. Andrew Robinson, the Entertainment Patrol has made 95 arrests and recovered 18 firearms since it was formed in July. The patrol has also made over 200 traffic stops and written more than 1,000 citations for summary-level offenses, including parking tickets and disorderly conduct.

“This is what happens when people focus on what's important and work together,” South Side resident and South Side Community Action Network member Don Berman told reporters gathered at Mario’s South Side Saloon Tuesday.

Berman credited the efforts of community partners, business owners, public safety and local leaders for reducing chaos.

“If you come down to East Carson Street now and think you're going to tailgate and pre-game at the back of your car, or create troubles, the South Side Entertainment Patrol is going to give you some other thoughts,” he said.

Despite the perception that the South Side was particularly violent last summer, crime data from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police released in July showed violence in the area decreasing; there were fewer shootings and calls for shots fired in the summer of 2023 compared to the summer of 2022.

But safety and security issues in the South Side became campaign issues in both the county executive and district attorney races last year. And Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto said the need for additional enforcement was clear.

Prior to the establishment of the Entertainment Patrol, he said, “there wasn't a lot of enforcement” of existing laws regarding violent and disruptive behavior.

“The behaviors went unchecked and in that created an ‘anything goes’ environment,” he added. But there’s a new message now for disruptive visitors, he said: “We'll show you you're not welcome by enforcing the laws as written for those that act outside of what the community expects.”

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