Urban Issues: Pittsburgh, Crime and Consolidation

Over the course of this summer an insidious change began to occur in my quaint little Pittsburgh neighborhood. The first sign of the change showed up when the word “FUCK” appeared one morning in red spray paint on the side of a utility structure next to our local convenience store. Being that my community is a mixture of retired people nearing the end of their lives and young families with children just starting out this little epithet caused everyone to cringe equally.

The utility structure sits directly across the street from the local school bus stop, a corner that sees three different waves of children off to school every morning. So I was not surprised when my next door neighbor took it upon himself to walk over to the structure with a can of tinners red to blot out the offending word. Unfortunately his actions were witnessed by some of the older kids in the neighborhood, with the offending “artist” apparently among their ranks. Within days the hood of my neighbors 2004 Chevy Cavalier boasted a new ornament, FUCK YOU had been keyed into the hood of the vehicle from left to right quarter panel. And so it began, an ugly escalation of events that have me sitting down here to tap out this angry post.

I made it a point to get to know most of the kids in the neighborhood so when this happened to my neighbor, a good family man who had just been laid off from his job and was going to have to struggle to pay the $500 deductible to have his hood replaced, I decided to do some investigative work. What I found amazed me. According to the local kids the person responsible for this action was well known. A local punk whose family, 12 people all told (eight of them kids), lives in a Section 8 house at the back of the neighborhood. “He has broken into my house several times and stolen CD’s, DVD’s and games” one kid confessed.

Now I need to back up a bit and give you some background. I live in a Borough of Pittsburgh that was one of the oldest “suburbs” in the city. In reality it is only two miles from the city lines and is indistinguishable from any other city neighborhood with the exception of the fact that, in a short sighted effort to maintain it’s individuality in the face of blinding debt, it can not afford to maintain it’s own police force. Several years ago this borough along with several others in the city decided to close the doors on it’s police force in favor of paying the police of neighboring boroughs to patrol the area.

Back to the story, so armed with this new information about the culprit I flagged down one of these rented police and filled him in on what I had learned. The answer I got was even more surprising than the events themselves, “we are at that kids house on a daily basis” the cop said. They were fully aware of this family but there was “nothing they could do unless they caught him in the act or he confessed.” Ok, fine I guess if that’s the way it is what can I do?

Unfortunately, this kid was emboldened by his actions and things really began to escalate. A $200 American flag was stolen from the same neighbor whose car was vandalized. Then an elderly couples home was invaded and burglarized while they were away at church one Sunday morning. Next a $300 mountain bike disappeared from the back porch of another neighbor. All of this culminated with the robbery of the local convenience store by “some teens” dressed in Santa Clause outfits.

I spoke with the rent-a-cops about this spate of crime and they ensured me that it was very likely this kid. A warrant was served on their home and several articles were taken by the police, including a safe and some santa hats. In addition, a group of neighbors put together a petition to remove this family from their home and apparently it was going to be honored. July 31st was their move-out date. Unfortunately today is August 20th and they are still no closer to moving out then they were a year ago. The police have done nothing, no arrests have been made – all the kids are minors – and now we have learned that at least one of them is dealing heroin.

What is killing me about this chain of events is that I can not imagine it going beyond the keyed-hood in a neighborhood that actually has it’s own police force. My area is made up of five boroughs and two townships that each has it’s own financial woes. Talk of consolidation has been going on for quite some time but it has been shot down by the wealthy communities that inhabit “the heights” in effect keeping this issue off the table. I am not so sure that full consolidation would be the best answer myself but it certainly would make sense to pool resources to create a Greater North Boroughs Police Force, one that would have a vested interest in serving the communities instead of simply paying lipservice and collecting speeding ticket cash.

I spent some time the other night discussing this issue with a friend of mine who happens to be a police officer for the county and he expressed similar views. His neighborhood, which is also a part of the north boroughs, was experiencing a similar issue with one kid and when he brought it up to one of the rented policeman in the area he was told, “wouldn’t it be a shame if someone dressed in black with a baseball bat beat the crap out of that kid one night?” Great, we pay you to patrol our communities and you are advocating vigilante justice. I don’t see this getting any better until these communities face reality, drop their useless attempt at maintaining community individuality and start the process of consolidation.

For more info on the challenge Pittsburgh is facing in it’s efforts to consolidate check out the following artilces:

Searching for a Path to the Future for the Pittsburgh Region
Merger Mania: Not so fast

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