Elevated levels of violent crime in the region prompted Pittsburgh’s FBI field office to launch a Violent Crimes Task Force this week. Federal data show that Pittsburgh and surrounding counties are experiencing higher levels of violent crime, on average, than the rest of the state and country.
While a statement from the FBI highlights bank robberies as “a significant problem” in Allegheny County, assistant special agent in charge Chad Yarbrough said, “There’s a plethora of violations that we’re going to be looking at, whether it be bank robberies, kidnappings, murder for hires, carjackings, homicides or commercial robberies.”
Serial commercial robberies at gas stations, convenience stores and other retail outlets, Yarbrough said, will be a major focus of the task force.
According to the FBI statement, the bureau responded to 51 bank robberies in 2016, compared to 22 this year.
The task force will bring more federal funding and resources to local and state law enforcement agencies, and will help them to coordinate intelligence gathering and sharing, according to Yarbrough.
The goal, Yarbrough said, is to catch the most violent offenders and send them to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for federal prosecution.
Yarbrough attributed the recent wave of violent crime primarily to the rise in opioid abuse.
“Pittsburgh and its surrounding community is at the epicenter of the opioid crisis. You obviously have drug trafficking, therefore that plays a role in that. And there’s also economic factors that go into that,” Yarbrough said. “All of these factors combined lead us to a higher, elevated violent crime rate.”
He noted that suburban and outlying areas have been hardest hit. In some places, he said, local police departments have been inhibited by limited resources.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the task force last week, after the Pittsburgh FBI completed a year-long threat assessment of the area.