When news of another St. Clair Village shooting reached Mayor Luke Ravenstahl yesterday, he was in a meeting about moving the South Side police station up to the Hilltop and decided, then and there, that it was time to pull a different kind of trigger.
"I was sick of sending e-mails. I was sick of talking about things," he said at a news conference today. "The criminals in the Hilltop communities needed to hear that we were serious."
That message came today in three parts: an intensification of saturation patrols in the Hilltop neighborhoods, a pledge to renew the curfew citywide by Jan. 1, and an announcement that the Zone 3 station will move from the South Side Flats to a site on Warrington Avenue in Allentown that had been a youth hostel.
"This, when you look at the scope of Zone 3, is a more centrally located site," Mr. Ravenstahl said. It is also in a spot closer to Beltzhoover, Knoxville and St. Clair Village. "We're talking about murders up here. We're talking about shootings up here."
How did neighborhood residents in attendance at the announcement feel?
"Knowing that they're right here is going to really help," said Sharon Daniels, a Beltzhoover resident and executive director of My Brother's Keeper, a transitional living facility. Her son was murdered in the neighborhood in 2001. "We don't have to be going through what we're going through."
Jeff Decker, owner of a Gulf gas station across the street from the new station, said he'd donate 12 parking spots behind his property if that would help. Having the station there "means the hookers will disappear. The crackheads will disappear. . . . Somebody told me the police station was going to go here, and I said, 'Yes, yes, yes!' "
The property is owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which has hired architect Suzan Lami to work on turning it into a police station. Mr. Ravenstahl said there is as yet no cost estimate.
The administration will put out a request for proposals from outside agencies that might house overnight youths who violate the curfew. The curfew has been ineffective for years because of the lack of any place to take kids who violate it.
Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents both the South Side Flats and the Hilltop neighborhoods, said he thought the move was driven by Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly's complaints about the conditions of the current Zone 3 station. Those complaints resulted in a state Department of Labor and Industry inspection of the building last Friday.
He said just moving the station wouldn't solve the crime problems in the zone, which stretches from Duquesne Heights to Arlington Heights, and from Banksville to Carrick.
"We have a revolving door in the commander's office," he said. "I am staffing 18 neighborhoods with 22 officers being my prime number at any given time."
Moving the station, he said, "was a unilateral decision made from an ivory tower by someone I'm not convinced knows the community."