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Homicides Down, Shootings Up In Pittsburgh Police Six-Year Report

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA

  Police are puzzled why the city's aggravated assaults, shootings and calls for shots fired all rose in 2015 as the number of homicides fell to levels more on par with previous years, Police Chief Cameron McLay said Friday.

Traditionally, shootings are a good measure for a city's homicide rate, McLay said. That didn't hold true for Pittsburgh in 2015.

Year over year, shootings rose 28 percent; aggravated assaults with a gun rose 23 percent; and calls for shots fired rose 31 percent, while homicides dropped 20 percent.

Data provided by police show these crimes also continue to disproportionately plague Pittsburgh's Homewood, Hill District and North Side communities.

"Not everyone in Pittsburgh enjoys the same quality of life," McLay said.

McLay said the beat cops who work an area every day improve collaboration between headquarters and the community it serves. Major crime investigators are now working more collaboratively with those officers.

Residents know the relationships. Patrol officers report the crimes. Detectives follow through with investigations, and administrators find over-arching patterns the boots on the ground can’t always see. Everyone plays their part, he said.

“There’s a lot of violence," McLay said. "There is a problem, and a lot of the things that we’ve been putting in place over this year, we’re going to have to double down on in the coming year.”

Pittsburgh Police Zone 3 Commander Larry Scirotto bounced on his black leather heels as he credited the dip in homicides to the department's reorganization last fall.

The bureau consolidated its robbery and homicide squads into a single violent crime unit in September. Officers said at the time that additional resources would help boots on the ground get a better sense of criminal activity in specific neighborhoods beyond just fatalities.

Since then, officers have cleared 62.1 percent of homicides, Scirotto said. That compares to the department's five-year average of 48 percent. 

The department's official clearance rate for the year is 43 percent, though cases that occurred in 2015 and are subsequently solved later will retroactively adjust that figure, McLay said. The department maintains it "cannot be expected to solve homicides that occurred in the later (sic) half of the year," according to information displayed at police headquarters.

Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.