Pittsburgh PD to launch new street crimes unit to implement group violence intervention strategy
The street crime unit will conduct community engagement, but also focus on enforcement and consequences for violent criminals
By Julia Felton
The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh police plan next year to launch a new street crime team and hire a dozen people to respond to calls that don’t require an armed officer.
The new street crime unit will be comprised of 18 officers, including two sergeants and a lieutenant. It will focus on reducing violent crimes, particularly gun violence, across the city, Chief Larry Scirotto said.
“This is focusing on individuals who have been identified through intelligence (as people who) participate in gun violence,” he said. “We don’t have personnel who do that today.”
The team, set to launch in January, will “be where violence dictates” and will respond to all shootings, Scirotto said.
It will include officers who were “identified as some of our best” in terms of work ethic, conduct and temperament, he said. They will receive special training and oversight.
“When you think of the group violence intervention strategy, it’s two-pronged,” Scirotto said. “The first part is community and outreach. That is the preferred method of engagement. Then there’s the second part, which is the enforcement piece.”
The street crime unit will conduct community engagement, Scirotto said, but also will focus on enforcement and consequences for violent criminals.
“We’re focusing on people that don’t follow rules, that cause great harm to our community,” he said.
Scirotto acknowledged similar teams in other cities have raised alarms, but said Pittsburgh’s unit will be closely monitored and made up of people who officials trust to do the job properly.
The police chief said he led a similar team for two years starting in 2008 as a sergeant. In two years, he said, the team received only one citizen complaint.
The bureau also will hire a dozen civilian community aides next year. Scirotto said they plan to recruit from local schools. Community aides must be at least 18 years old, be city residents and have a high school diploma or GED. They could be mentored and trained to eventually become police officers, he said.
They’ll handle calls that don’t require an armed officer, like parking complaints, Scirotto said. They also can participate in community engagement efforts. That will help alleviate the workload for uniformed officers, which is particularly important as the bureau has been understaffed.
The bureau now has 799 officers, plus 42 recruits in the training academy, Scirotto said. This year — and in prior years — the bureau has budgeted for 900 officers. Next year, the budget calls for 850 as officials have said it won’t be possible to reach the 900 threshold in 2024.
Scirotto said he feels confident the bureau can reach the 850 threshold.
The bureau budgeted for three additional police academy classes next year, with the first 2024 class slated to begin in May. They’ll be connecting recruits with mentors on the force in an effort to shepherd more applicants through the process to become officers.
In the most recent police class, Scirotto said, there were 150 applicants. They lost 100 in the physical fitness test and there are only 18 now left in that class, he said. Next year, he’s hoping for class sizes of about 50.
Councilman Anthony Coghill, D-Beechview, expressed concerns about recent departures. The city has lost 69 officers this year, including 43 resignations and 25 retirements. Even with new recruits, he said, “we’re still going to be working at a deficit” if people continue to leave.
The bureau also will be shifting its schedule to four ten-hour shifts per week to better use the officers it has, Scirotto said. It will be decreasing the number of officers working during times with lower call volumes to ensure there are more officers working when they’re needed most.
The new schedule, he said, came at the request of a majority of officers.
Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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