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Pittsburgh police to increase patrols amid spike in downtown assaults

The changes include “additional support” for the Downtown Public Safety Center, including police dogs, bicycle units and violence prevention officers

Pittsburgh Bureau of Police

The new strategies in Downtown will also include a dedicated “high-visibility patrol vehicle” that will drive the Central Business District overnight in cruise mode — that is, the vehicle’s light bar will remain steadily lit but not flashing

Pittsburgh Bureau of Police

By Megan Guza
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — A series of high-profile and seemingly random assaults across Downtown Pittsburgh this summer prompted city police to ramp up patrols in what officials are calling a “high-visibility police patrol initiative.”

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The changes include “additional support” for the Downtown Public Safety Center — a substation dedicated to the Central Business District — including police dogs, bicycle units and violence prevention officers. The violence prevention officers will “focus on specific areas and issues of concern Downtown.” Those areas, according to the release from the city’s Public Safety Department, will be chosen by police supervisors.

Plans also include more visible nighttime patrols, although the most recent incidents happened either during daylight hours or around dusk.

In late May, a man was injured when he was stabbed in the shoulder about 4:30 p.m. on Third Avenue. Police released little information about the incident, and no arrests have been announced.

On June 5, an 18-year-old woman was physically assaulted near Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue. Sofia Mancing, an intern at Flying Scooter Productions Downtown, was walking to her bus stop about 5 p.m. when a woman struck her in the back of the head with a shoe.

The suspect, identified as 27-year-old Shurontaya Festa, is charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct in connection with the alleged attack. According to the criminal complaint, Ms. Festa told police she believed the other woman was “stalking her.”

At the time, Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt called the attack an extremely unfortunate isolated incident — one that “can occur in any community.”

Three weeks later, a 73-year-old man was walking on Fourth Avenue around noon when a stranger approached, chased him, and hit him in the head. The blow caused him to fall to the ground. Jameel Huff, 24, is charged with aggravated assault.

On July 1, a still-unidentified man fired at least twice toward a group of people standing outside a store on Liberty Avenue. No one was injured in the incident, which happened shortly before 8 p.m. Police said the suspect opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun. No arrests have been made in that incident.

Other incidents have centered around Market Square, where police said earlier this year there had been an uptick in fights among teenagers. Public Safety spokeswoman Cara Cruz said in May that police increased violence prevention unit patrols in the outdoor hub in response to “the recent increase in fights.”

The new strategies in Downtown will also include a dedicated “high-visibility patrol vehicle” that will drive the Central Business District overnight in cruise mode — that is, the vehicle’s light bar will remain steadily lit but not flashing.

The idea, according to the release, is make police vehicles visible as both a deterrent and a resource.

It’s a strategy that’s been employed across the country, from Memphis to Orlando and Johnstown to Fairfax.

” The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is committed to ensuring the Central Business District — and all Pittsburgh neighborhoods — remain safe and welcoming for all,” Chief Larry Scirotto said in a statement. “We believe these measures will enhance public safety and provide a highly-visible reminder that police are available and operating in the area throughout the evening.”

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