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More safety measures, including citing disruptive properties, coming to Pittsburgh's South Side

Pittsburgh will be bustling with events and crowds this weekend, from the annual Kenny Chesney concert on the city’s North Shore to the second weekend of the Three Rivers Arts Festival in the Cultural District. But despite these other events, officials stressed Friday that police are still focused on the city’s South Side.

Multiple shootings have taken place near the South Side’s business corridor in the last few months, including back-to-back incidents last Saturday and Sunday. One South Side business cited the violence as the reason it moved to close its East Carson Street location this week.

Accompanied by several city officials, Mayor Ed Gainey walked the business corridor early Saturday to speak directly with residents, police and patrons of the neighborhood about curbing the ongoing problems there.

Police say violence is up across the city. Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert joined other police chiefs last week in calling on President Biden and Congress to take action on gun control as more gun violence has been observed across the country. Despite the nationwide trend, Gainey said at a news conference Friday that keeping violence down in the South Side is a uniquely Pittsburgh problem.

“Six blocks on Carson Street, where activity is concentrated, are home to at least 26 licensed bars and liquor establishments. This is more than any other place in the country,” Gainey said. “Each weekend, this brings thousands of people into the small region of our city and creates a tremendous challenge to public safety.”

Some South Side residents have stressed that the violence comes from bar patrons who don’t live in the area, with many incidents occurring after bars close for the night.

With that in mind, Gainey said the city would soon begin enforcing its Disruptive Properties program again. Under the program, the city will declare a property “disruptive” if owners receive three notices within one year. Disruptive property owners will then be charged for all public safety service calls. Property owners can clear the classification by avoiding public safety calls for 12 consecutive months.

Officials declined to provide a timeline for the program reboot, citing the need to iron out details with the city council. But Gainey said Friday he hopes to begin in “a couple weeks.”

City officials have tried a host of strategies to manage the apparent annual summer uptick in crime along East Carson Street for years. It's unclear if the city will resurrect the strict traffic restrictions police established last summer as a violence deterrent. Last year, East Carson Street was converted into a one-way road on weekend evenings to decrease vehicle and pedestrian traffic while allowing police to quickly access anywhere between 10th and 18th streets. Side streets were closed, and parking was prohibited.

According to Zone 3 Police Cmdr. John Fisher, the closures helped reduce incidents along East Carson Street and helped officers better manage the corridor.

“I do absolutely believe that it did work,” Fisher said. “The only drawback to that was the complaints from business owners down there. They felt that it affected their business.”

Gainey said he plans to speak with business owners and residents next week to allow their input before deciding whether to bring back similar restrictions. He also planned to walk the neighborhood this weekend.

“So I can see firsthand what is happening in the early hours of the morning and better understand what we need to do to help Carson Street remain and stay safe,” he said.

For now, police will continue barricading an emergency lane along East Carson Street to help officers move through the corridor. Parking will be prohibited between 17th and 18th streets along East Carson Street. Police have also placed large light towers to illuminate the corridor's dark corners.

According to Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt, officials with the departments of permits, licenses and inspections and fire safety will issue citations for code and occupancy violations.

“Our goal is to make sure everyone’s safe and can have a good time,” Schmidt said.

While some officers will be restationed from other zones to help manage the North Shore and Cultural District this weekend, police are confident that they have enough staff to maintain the increased number of officers needed on the South Side.

“We feel we have enough [officers] for the area, actually more than we had last year,” said Assistant Chief Linda Barone. Police will send at least 17 officers in marked vehicles to patrol the area this weekend and enforce roving DUI checkpoints.

At the Friday news conference, police celebrated the arrest of three homicide suspects during the last week. Also Friday, police obtained a warrant for a suspect in a shooting in which he and another man were wounded early last Sunday in the 1500 block of East Carson Street. Gainey pointed to his “Pittsburgh Plan for Peace,” which stresses community involvement in investigations as one catalyst for the arrests. According to police, photos and videos from the public helped officers track down the suspects.

“Everyone in the community that has stepped up and forwarded information, videos and pictures, I thank you,” Gainey said Friday. “When we work together, community and law enforcement, we can solve these murders and work to end the violence we are seeing in our city.”

Updated: June 11, 2022 at 11:12 AM EDT
This story has been updated to reflect Mayor Ed Gainey's visit to the South Side business corridor early Saturday.
Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.