Report: Overhaul public safety, transportation, legal compliance on Pittsburgh's South Side

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The city of Pittsburgh must overhaul public-safety services for the South Side and other entertainment districts, a hospitality consultant said today, warning that the city may be exposing itself to legal liability by ignoring complaints about revelers' drunken and disorderly behavior.

The report by California-based Responsible Hospitality Institute is being presented to City Council today. The findings and recommendations were based on an evaluation of city laws and practices, an examination of strategies that other cities use for managing their nighttime economies and the input of nearly 200 Pittsburghers, including government officials, business representatives and residents.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl agreed to the $100,000 study at the request of Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the South Side and has repeatedly sought help with public intoxication, violence, drunken driving and other problems in the East Carson Street bar and nightclub district.

"While Pittsburgh succeeds in so many categories and is recognized nationwide for its livability, economic stability and the prestige of its universities and medical facilities, the city falls short in one critical area: The approach to public safety for districts with dining, entertainment and nightlife," according to the report, which also studied nightlife Downtown and in Lawrenceville and Oakland.

The report called for nighttime enforcement of occupancy and fire codes, both of which Mr. Kraus has demanded, and it suggested creation of a "public safety holding" center for detaining drunken and disorderly patrons on the South Side.

The city previously operated a neighborhood drunk tank.

In addition, the report's authors suggested the city consider enacting an anti-loitering ordinance to keep crowds moving along; require security training for bar employees; develop a points system for suspending business licenses of establishments that violate city codes; and form a special police unit to work in entertainment districts.

"These officers should be carefully selected for skill set and temperament and specially trained on alcohol laws and policies," according to the report. "... The team could function as beat officers, bike officers, plainclothes and or part of a motorized unit as needed."

Some establishments hire off-duty police officers to provide security. The consultant raised some concerns about the use of so-called detail officers -- some cities prohibit moonlighting citing a potential conflict of interest -- and suggested improvements if Pittsburgh continues the practice.

First, according to the report, the city must clarify the detail officers' role: Are they to focus entirely on the establishments that hired them or should they be pulled onto the streets at times to handle crowd- and traffic-control?

Second, interviews with detail officers revealed that some were unfamiliar with state alcohol laws and the occupancy limits of the establishments that hired them.

"An overview of expectations of their role and duties will need to be supplemented with education about the laws they are expected to enforce pertaining to licensees," according to the report.

It noted that much drinking, especially underage drinking, occurs at house parties. The report suggested that beer distributors be required to number kegs and the information be used to track down those who purchase alcohol for underage consumption.

"Now is the time for the city of Pittsburgh to take the reins on nighttime development," according to the report. "... Nighttime social activity can be sustainable long-term if it is planned and managed instead of allowing it to evolve independently and without conditions. There is also still an opportunity to steer the South Side in a positive new direction and reclaim its legacy as vibrant neighborhood."

Besides public safety, the report made recommendations for improving transportation, for helping establishments comply with city laws and for encouraging responsible behavior among patrons.

The recommendations, some of them previously mentioned by Mr. Kraus and others, include:

• Creation of special zoning restrictions, a so-called zoning overlay, to guide development and operation of hospitality districts.

• Provide remote parking and shuttle service for South Side employees and patrons, something that could ease residents' complaints about illegal parking on side streets off of East Carson.

• Boost parking enforcement. City Council already is debating whether to extend on-street meter enforcement four hours, until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, in the South Side and six other neighborhoods.

• Develop a marketing campaign to encourage visitor safety and responsible behavior. Mr. Kraus previously expressed interest in ad campaigns, used in other cities, suggesting that excessive drinking is a turnoff to the opposite sex and can cause impotence. Another possibility, the consultant said, is a resident-sponsored "Turn It Down" campaign with earplugs as a give-away.

• Provide a guidebook that businesses would use to develop safety and security practices.

• Collect data to identify public-safety trouble spots. For example, police arresting revelers for public intoxication or drunken driving might ask where they had their last drink and document the location.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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