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Violence puts anti-crime program under microscope

A violent weekend in Pittsburgh will bring another police crackdown, Chief Nate Harper said Monday.

Officers will conduct drunken-driving and “equipment check” patrols starting at 11 p.m. Thursday in the Hill District, West End and Homewood.

“We will be targeting the areas where there were violent acts,” Harper said. “We know the shooters didn’t leave the scene on foot; they drove.”

Three people died in violence Saturday, less than a week after police conducted a citywide roundup and arrested more than 30 people as part of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime.

Some leaders question whether the PIRC program — which involves meetings with gang members — is working.

“They’re just working from a superficial and surface level, and it’s not going to work,” said Rashad Byrdsong, executive director of the Community Empowerment Association. “I haven’t seen where they’re really addressing the root causes of violence and looking for how to enhance the infrastructure and social fabric where it’s incubated.”

Harper defended it.

“It is effective, especially when you take criminal elements off the street. But at the same time, there’s not some magic formula on stopping homicides,” Harper said. “You could have an officer on every corner, and homicides could still occur.”

Audra Cobb, 40, died in a stabbing in Homewood on Saturday. Duerryl Whitaker, 25, of Mt. Oliver was killed in an apparent drug robbery in a Crafton Heights apartment, police said. Bradley Smith, 21, of Carnegie was arrested in Whitaker’s shooting, police said, and charges were filed against Abraham Mitchell, 24, of Glen Hazel in connection with the shooting.

Police were searching for Thaddeus Crumbley, 32, of Homewood, who is charged with homicide in the death of William Clark, 39, of Wilkinsburg. Clark was found on Frankstown Avenue in Homewood with bullet wounds to the head and torso, police said.

Police investigated another shooting in Uptown early Saturday that injured four people. Harper said it appears that shooting stemmed from a speakeasy on Fifth Avenue.

“We will be going through the whole city shutting them down,” Harper said of unauthorized clubs.

Officials say PIRC, modeled on a Boston anti-crime program, involves mapping relationships between gang members in the city and letting them know that authorities won’t tolerate killings. This weekend’s homicides don’t appear to be group-related, said Richard Garland, director of One Vision One Life, an Allegheny County anti-violence initiative.

“I can tell you some of it is drug and alcohol; it doesn’t have anything to do with gang stuff,” Garland said. “I think the presence the police have been having has really curbed a lot of stuff.”

Yet, City Councilwoman Theresa Smith said she’s concerned about the program.

“I see some of the work they’re doing, but there’s been a lot of violence in the city in the last two weeks,” Smith said. “If the purpose of the program is to reduce crime, they may achieve that overall goal, but in the interim, one murder is one murder too many.”

It will take time for the program to cause change, Garland said.

“It might not be as fast as what the community wants to see, but anything you start, it’s going to take some time before you see some real results,” he said.


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