Group Says Pittsburgh Downtown Safety 'Declining'

Jul 18, 2019

A nonprofit arts organization has raised concerns over what the chief executive called a "declining level of public safety" in an area of downtown Pittsburgh that's being redeveloped.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has focused for decades on the economic and cultural development of a once-seedy 14-square-block section of the city's downtown area.

But CEO Kevin McMahon said in a letter to Mayor Bill Peduto that "alarming" recent problems — such as a July 4 shooting that wounded a 16-year-old boy and an 18-year-old man — threaten "to undo the reputation and the achievements created" over the past 35 years, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

McMahon said the recent shooting wasn't "just another isolated holiday spike" but was rather a "tipping point" following a consistent decline in safety in the area.

"During the past 12 months we have seen the increase of homeless persons, very aggressive panhandlers, disorderly youth, open marijuana usage, lewd acts in the alleyways, and a drastic increase in publicly intoxicated or persons under the influence of controlled substances openly roaming the streets of the Cultural District unchecked by law enforcement," he said.

A trust employee was assaulted last month as he left the organization's office, and other staff members have been harassed while working in the district, McMahon said. In addition, there has been an increase in overdoses as the trust-owned plaza that was the scene of the shooting, and vandalism to trust properties has increased, he said.

"Noticeably absent," McMahon said, "has been an increase in police presence."

Peduto, in a statement, said city homicides have been down every year since 2014 and the latest statistics show a 3% drop this year in violent and property crimes. And, he said, the city now employs the largest number of police in 15 years.

In addition, the mayor said, officials have adopted new commitments to community-oriented policing and working with neighborhood leaders as well as use of predictive analytic technology to prevent crimes and programs to engage at-risk individuals and provide them with opportunities.