New officers hit the streets in Pittsburgh's East End


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Monday marked a day of street lessons for the newest members of the Pittsburgh police force.

Here’s where people drink 40s and smoke blunts. That’s the drug house where a man was killed last month. Here’s where the prostitutes hang out; many come from Wilkinsburg, but a few live in Homewood.

Those were among the lessons Zone 5 police Cmdr. Timothy O’Connor taught the 13 men who graduated from the Pittsburgh police bureau’s training academy this month.

The new officers, most of whom have experience working for other police departments, began walking foot patrols Monday in the East End neighborhoods covered by the city’s Zone 5 station. They worked a day shift Monday, but some eventually will begin later in the day, when more activity tends to occur.

“They have to get acclimated to the zone and know where they’re going,” the commander said.

Their new assignments are among the actions touted by the city in its efforts to derail an uptick in homicides. The neighborhoods covered by the city’s Zone 5 station have recorded more killings than any other section of the city. About 25 people have been shot there since June 1, including five who died, Cmdr. O’Connor said.

The zone was at times short-staffed this summer while some officers left for military duty and others recovered from injuries, the commander said. Having the new officers assigned there means more people will be able to focus on quality of life issues rather than jumping from call to call, he said.

The extra patrols, some community leaders have said, are a start but not a total solution to reducing the violence. Representatives from some groups, including the Community Empowerment Association, have called on city leaders to provide more job opportunities for people living in the city’s poorer neighborhoods and more recreation for children.

“Our obligation to the community is primarily a law enforcement-directed approach, and that means uniform policing and providing a presence and arresting violators,” Cmdr. O’Connor said.

 

The new recruits rode a bureau van Monday morning to a parking lot next to an abandoned building at Frankstown and Homewood avenues. There, the commander rattled off four names and told those officers to follow him.

They walked in an alley next to an abandoned restaurant. This, the commander told them, is where they will find people drinking booze and smoking blunts. He held up an empty beer can as proof. Across the alley and just a few feet away stands an old building where a man was arrested for stealing GPS systems.

Farther down the street, they’ll find the Homewood Senior Center. That’s run by the local government, the commander said, and is a good place to go if they need a bathroom break.

Their walk continued briefly before the commander took them back to the street corner where they started and left them alone so he could direct another group to another location.

The four recruits huddled. What are our call numbers? Some have them written on their hands. It likely will wash away by the end of the day. It’s raining. But, another recruit later told the commander, the goal is to have the number memorized before that happens.

The new officers broke into pairs. Officers Adam Beatty and Richard D’Uva walked along Frankstown Avenue. They turned up the sidewalk at the senior center, behind a woman in a red dress.

“You’re too young to be here,” Kitty Maben, 79, joked with the officers. “You have to be 60.”

Officer Beatty asked whether she could sneak them inside. They entered, introduced themselves and the staff greeted them with smiles and laughter, joking that they can’t vouch for anything Ms. Maben said.

On their way out, a group of men looked at the officers and, in between laughter, asked each other, “Uh oh, what’d you do?”

It was a quiet morning full of similar exchanges — some thank the officers, while others greet them skeptically. The rain has kept people inside, Cmdr. O’Connor said, “but eventually, the rain’s going to end and more people and more activity will be seen on the streets, and we’re hoping that …when that happens, their presence will be able to keep activity legal.”


Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.

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