Pittsburgh officials urge vigilance amid burglaries

Police chief calls this year's 10% increase troubling

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Public safety officials on Wednesday urged neighbors to look out for each other to combat a rise in burglaries throughout the city this year.

Citywide, 100 more burglaries were reported between January and May of this year than were reported during the same time period last year -- 1,051 compared to 951 -- according to police bureau statistics.

The data underscore the need for more block watches, in which neighbors routinely spot and report problems to authorities, police Chief Nate Harper said at a news conference outside the Beechview IGA. He joined Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Michael Huss in praising residents' vigilance as one reason for a falling overall crime rate. The mayor said crime has fallen in the city for the sixth year in a row, which he attributed to a combination of police equipment and training, community policing and efforts to bolster development and reduce blight.

Still, Chief Harper said, the increase in burglaries is troubling. Although he could not provide statistics, he said the number of burglaries has risen each month this year except June. They likely fell that month because of the arrests of several serial burglars and a group of Sheraden boys who police said were responsible for several dozen break-ins and a rash of other crimes. The majority of the crimes are happening in the day, when residents are away from home.

It isn't clear why break-ins are up. Sgt. Kevin Gasiorowski of the burglary squad, who was not at the news conference, said his detectives have recently encountered several serial burglars and believe one could be behind about a dozen recent break-ins in Shadyside that have put apartment-dwellers on edge. Burglary statistics fluctuate, he said.

"One person can really drive the numbers," Sgt. Gasiorowski said. Neighborhoods such as Bloomfield and North Oakland, for example, saw a drop in burglaries almost immediately after repeat offender Roy Searles, convicted of the crime several times in three decades, was arrested again in April, the sergeant said.

No neighborhood has been immune to burglaries, the chief said, though areas with block watches were more likely to experience decreases.

"They're something we want to add throughout the city," Chief Harper said.

Officials pointed to residents of Kirk Avenue in Carrick, who recently banded together to look out for each other and report problems, such as drug dealing, to police. Crime, including burglaries, is down so far this year in that neighborhood, according to bureau statistics. There were 52 burglaries in Carrick by the end of May 2011 and 43 by the end of this May.

Carol Anthony, who sits on the crime prevention committee of the Carrick Community Council, said she encourages residents to call police for problems large and small and to bond with neighbors who can relate. There are at least seven block watches in Carrick, she said.

"Years ago, what we called a nebby neighbor -- that's what we want people to be today," Ms. Anthony said. "It's important that if they see anything strange ... that they call 911."

Correction/Clarification: (Published July 13, 2012) A story Thursday incorrectly stated that burglaries in the city were up 21 percent, based on a statistic provided by public safety director Michael Huss at a news conference. City spokeswoman Joanna Doven on Friday said the director had been given inaccurate information and the increase is 10 percent.

Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. First Published July 12, 2012 4:00 AM


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