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2016 City Council Preview: Harris, Burgess And Kraus On Public Safety And Community Confidence

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

This is the second in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2016 with members of Pittsburgh City Council.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has promised a culture change at the Bureau of Police, and Cameron McLay is the man he has tapped to lead that change. 

Often sounding more like an elementary school teacher than a law enforcement officer, McLay speaks with a calm, even tone about subjects like cooperation, fairness and empathy. Though Pittsburgh has been chosen as a pilot site for a federal program on increasing community confidence in the police and the rate of homicides is down in 2015, overall gun violence is up and the force continues to suffer from a staffing shortage and a lack of community confidence.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris

District 1: Allegheny Center, Brighton Heights, Brightwood, East Allegheny, Fineview, Northview Heights, Observatory Hill, Spring Garden, Spring Hill, Summer Hill, Troy Hill, Washington’s Landing

Harris said she’s frustrated that the city is short nearly one hundred police officers, so one of her goals will be holding Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration to its stated goal of beginning training for 120 new recruits in 2016.

Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA
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Councilwoman Darlene Harris in April 2015.

“Making sure that the administration puts on the three classes that they promised for next year and actually trying to get an integrated public safety training center is something that I think we need in the city,” she said.

The city simply needs more space if it’s going to try to run three classes of recruits simultaneously, according to city spokesman Tim McNulty.

Harris says such a training center would increase efficiency and could also serve fire, emergency medical services and animal control personnel, but no capital dollars have been set aside for such a project in the 2016 budget.

Councilman Ricky Burgess

District 9: Stanton Heights, Garfield, East Liberty, Larimer, Point Breeze, Homewood, East Hills, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar

Burgess has long argued that the relationship between law enforcement and low-income African Americans in Pittsburgh is in crisis. He said neither side trusts the other, but called Police Chief Cameron McLay’s approach a “breath of fresh air.”

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Councilman Ricky Burgess in December 2015.

“I still believe that the best way to improve public safety is to improve community confidence,” he said. “The more the community has confidence in the police, the safer our city will be.”

Burgess represents some of the neighborhoods most affected by violent and property crimes, also some of the most economically depressed areas of the city.

He said crime is linked to poverty and that his City for All agenda, which address wages, affordable housing and community-oriented development, will ultimately have a positive effect on public safety.

It appears Mayor Bill Peduto is in agreement; at a press conference in November he announced that the city would pay all its workers a minimum of $15/hour by 2017.

“You want to get a gun out of a kid’s hand? Put a paycheck in it,” Peduto said.

Councilman Bruce Kraus

District 3: Oakland, South Side Flats, South Side Slopes, Allentown, Beltzhoover, Arlington Heights, Mt. Oliver, Knoxville, Oakcliffe, St. Clair

Kraus’s public safety problem is entirely different than Burgess’s. Rapid expansion of the student housing market and nightlife scene on the South Side Flats have brought with them problems like public intoxication and urination.

Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA
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Council President Bruce Kraus in January 2014.

Many businesses hire off-duty police officers as security, but in 2016 the city will take a new approach. It is extending parking meter fees until midnight on the weekends and piloting what is called a “parking investment zone.”

“We’ll capture the income from meters from 6:00pm on, which has never been captured before, and that money will be purposely sequestered so as to provide for the public safety services that are needed in a corridor like East Carson St.,” Kraus said.

Kraus said if the program is successful, it could be expanded to other areas of the city.

There is also talk of prohibiting parking on the busiest stretch of Carson St., to create a dedicated lane for public safety vehicles, which currently are unable to quickly move down the main traffic corridor.