Pittsburgh Police Chief McLay to revive crime program
A Pittsburgh crime prevention project spent more than $1 million since its inception five years ago, but some officials say it languished because police brass didn’t buy in to the strategy.
Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay said that’s changing. He’s making the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime the centerpiece of his efforts to reduce violence in the city.
Just don’t call it that.
“There’s a model of how police and law enforcement can partner with the community, partner with other elements of the criminal justice system and be really surgical in its intervention in dealing with violence,” McLay said. “There’s a lot of really great things happening in Pittsburgh, and it hovers around what we have called PIRC. Now, I’m not going to call it PIRC. There’s so much baggage associated with (that) on any number of fronts.”
The effectiveness of the program, which started in 2010, is unclear. City homicides hovered near their lowest level in a decade, between 42 and 46 deaths, in 2011-13 before spiking to 71 last year. The program has a coordinator, Jay Gilmer, who makes $49,000 annually and has a $250,000 budget spent largely on community engagement programs aimed at showing at-risk youth a better way.
“It does work, and it will work. It’s getting all the parts working together,” Gilmer said. “Putting the proper pressure on the streets, that’s always been the challenge.”
The program, as McLay says, is a model of focused deterrence and involves meeting with known gangs or troublemakers and letting them know that if the shootings don’t stop, police will look at any and all means of arresting group members for everything from guns, drugs and probation violations to child support violations and stolen cable.
Police meet with affected communities and engage with them as collaborators. Gilmer’s portion is offering alternative services to young people in affected communities.
David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, developed the program model. He has been in touch with McLay. He said the programs are effective against small groups that are responsible for the majority of homicides in cities.
“The Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime was never remotely properly implemented. The city has looked at revisiting that, correctly,” Kennedy said earlier this month.
Nonprofit Youth Opportunities Development contracts with PIRC to provide services, including holding weekly meetings for ex-offenders and meeting regularly with court-adjudicated minors.
“In the past, some elements (of PIRC) were stronger than others, and there wasn’t a complete buy-in from all parties,” Taili Thompson, executive director, said.
He said affected communities become weary of the traditional police response to violence — saturation.
“That doesn’t bring results. This model is more knowing and understanding of where the violence is coming from. Rather than focusing on hot spots, it’s focusing on hot people,” Thompson said. “You have to have that buy-in from the mayor and the chief on down. I’m not criticizing our co-partners, because some good has come from the program. We’ve developed a foundation.”
The Rev. Brenda Gregg, a pastor in the North Side, said she’s looking forward to a ramped-up program.
“I think it’s hard to say it’s reducing violence when you see the (2014 homicide) numbers, but you don’t know how many PIRC has alleviated,” Gregg said. “It’s bringing people together and knowing who to call before things happen. We’re all tired of responding to the trauma afterwards.”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.