PIRC, police see progress on violence

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With the increase in homicides in 2010, it is not surprising that some question whether Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper’s call for community members, churches,  businesses and nonprofits fell on deaf ears.

Harper does not think it has, but witnesses to shootings are generally still reluctant to speak, so he continues to ask for any assistance he can get.

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CHIEF NATE HARPER

“Various churches are stepping up and actively working with the neighborhood youth in a vigilant effort to curtail much of the existing crime and deter the criminal element,” he said. “We continue to work and improve the relationship with the communities we serve.  We welcome and encourage cooperation with the communities as we strive to work together to solve these violent and senseless crimes.”

Harper said the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime program is making headway with youth outreach, and with community groups and businesses.

“PIRC has applied pressure to various groups/gangs that have violated the PIRC guidelines,” he said. “We have made it clear that the violence will not be tolerated or accepted in the City. Those who indulge in this activity will be brought to justice and those in their group/gang as well.”

Jay Gilmer, who directs PIRC, noted that the initiative did not do its’ first call-in meeting—where police, clergy, community residents directly confronted gang members about putting down their guns—directly until July 13, 2010.  And since then, it has been doing what it is supposed to do to get results.

“When there were homicides after that, the police took direct action immediately. And in November, they conducted a suppression detail that rounded up all members of a particular group involved in a shooting,” he said. “We did another call-in for juvenile offenders in October and we have another for adults scheduled early February.”

Gilmer said about 40 percent of the homicides since its first call-in were group-related. But he said the dramatic results seen in other cities like Cincinnati that employed the same model did not occur until three or four such call-ins had taken place.

“PIRC has a lot of moving parts, but they are coming together,” he said. “One Vision One Life is doing a great job reaching the ‘bad guys’ and has established teams in every neighborhood with gang activity. I have been at public safety meetings, and Weed and Seed meetings across the city and we are getting vocal support from the community.”

Gilmer said the program’s employment piece is also showing results. The $100,000 given by businessman Chuck Sanders to subsidize salaries of former gang members has been very welcome.

“We’ve had about 25 individuals from the target population call in, about 15 are still in the pipeline and five have already been hired,” he said. “We also got about 45 calls from non-PIRC people that we were able to refer to other agencies for assistance.”

Gilmer said he just submitted a progress report to city council and said in the next few weeks, Ralph Bangs, Ph.D., at the University of Pittsburgh will be releasing an analysis of PIRC, compiled with the assistance of a graduate criminology researcher.

“It will be able to tell us how closely we’re adhering to David Kennedy’s original model, and will quantify our results,” said Gilmer. “People are saying count me in at the meetings. I’m heartened and excited that we’ll achieve the 35 percent reduction Cincinnati saw, or more.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburgh­courier.com.)

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