The installation of security cameras throughout Oakland – spurred by last year’s murder of Pitt student Alina Sheykhet – should act as a crime deterrent and give increased peace of mind to students and parents, Allegheny County’s top prosecutor said Tuesday.
The 60 new cameras – six with license plate readers – are positioned throughout the city’s Oakland section, but many are centered in the residential section of Central Oakland, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said during a press conference.
“We’re doing this today publicly because I want this to be a deterrent to somebody getting hurt,” he said. “I don’t want to react to any more tragedy if we don’t have to.”
Sheykhet was found beaten and stabbed to death Oct. 8 in her bedroom in the Cable Place apartment that she shared with roommates. He ex-boyfriend, former Pitt-Greensburg student Matthew Darby, has been charged with homicide in connection with her killing.
Sheykhet had sought a protection-from-abuse order against Darby, 22, days before she was killed after she said she awoke to find him standing in her bedroom. He allegedly climbed into her second-floor bedroom.
On the night of the killing, Darby broke in through a basement window, according to investigators. Security cameras from the area showed Darby in the area, at one point appearing to toss something into a gutter. Police later retrieved a claw hammer and two steel knives from the gutter – the alleged murder weapons.
Jury selection for Darby – who faces unrelated rape and assault charges in two separate cases – is set to begin in January. The District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty.
“Without a doubt, this is going to enhance the safety and security of the Pitt students down in Central, as well as South Oakland, and actually all around campus,” said Holly Lamb, deputy chief of university police.
She said the cameras will supplement those the university already has – about 1,100, of which about 230 are off campus.
The cameras cost $95,000 and were funded by UPMC, Pitt and the DA’s office. UPMC contributed $65,000, and Zappala’s office and Pitt each contributed $15,000.
Attorney Bob Del Greco represents the Sheykhet family. He said Alina Sheykhet’s mother was overwhelmed by the news.
“She was quite emotional and basically said, ‘Wow, Alina is making a difference,’” he said. “And indeed she does, and indeed she has made a difference.”
Pamela James — mother of 23-year-old Dakota James, who was missing for more than a month in 2017 before his body was found in the Ohio River on March 6 — applauded the news. James, who attended Tuesday’s press conference, started a nonprofit in her son’s honor, with one of the goals being to increase surveillance cameras throughout the city.
“We believe these cameras will reduce all forms of incidents, as well as help reduce the number of missing persons,” she said.
Crime has been falling in the four neighborhoods that collectively make up Oakland – Central Oakland, North Oakland, South Oakland and West Oakland.
In the first six months of 2018, Pittsburgh police investigated 571 incidents across the four neighborhoods, more than a third of which were theft-related – about 38 percent. Ten percent were vandalism reports. Central Oakland had the bulk of the crime reports: 239 out of 571.
Those numbers do not include investigations by university police.
Police in 2017 investigated 892 reports in the Oakland section, a majority of which were reports of theft. The number of reports to Pittsburgh police has fallen steadily in recent years: from 1,405 reports in 2014 to 892 last year – a decrease of more than 36 percent.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.