Surveillance key to solving two recent Pittsburgh homicides

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Media coverage of evidence collecting, interviews with neighbors and the quick identification of a suspect in the Wolfe sisters murder investigation led some in the Black community to believe more resources were being applied to that case than to the large numbers of Black homicides that remain unsolved.

One, Autumn Perkins, created the We Need Justice Too!!! Facebook page in response to the Wolfe sisters’ attention, and the site was joined by thousands who have waited months or years for their loved one’s killers to be apprehended.

And yes, as they continued to wait, Allen Wade was arrested for shooting Susan and Sarah Wolfe.  Twenty-five days passed between discovery of the bodies and Wade’s arrest. Between the estimated time of their deaths and the arrest, Wade was captured on surveillance using one of their credit cards and disposing of bloody clothing.

Corey-Clark-Photo

Corey Clark

But even as We Need Justice Too!!! was highlighting the seeming disparity in how crimes against Blacks and Whites are handled, Corey Clark was arrested for the shooting of Vincent Holt and the wounding of four others at the Rendezvous Phase III bar in Homewood. The time from the shooting to the arrest in this case—three days.

“I would hope that people pay attention to the contrast in these two cases. The police who were investigating both matters took the cases with equal seriousness,” said Pittsburgh Safety Department spokes­person Sonya Toler.  “When evidence is available, we can bring a swift conclusion to the investigation no matter the race of the victim or perpetrator.”

In both cases, surveillance cameras provided key evidence. Clark’s entire attack was captured on security video inside the bar. Wade, on the other hand, was seen by several different security and ATM cameras. One of his victims, Susan Wolfe, was also seen on PAT video and a neighborhood surveillance camera positioned at Hays Street, a block from the East Liberty apartment she shared with her sister, next door to Wade.

That level of interconnected surveillance might yet come to Homewood.

Last April, Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess passed legislation that was to install cameras and sonic gunshot detectors to cover a three square mile area in the neighborhood. Council approved $1.5 million for the project.

Surveillance cameras have already been installed Downtown, in the Mexican War Streets, in Beltzhoover and on Observatory Hill.  Not everyone, however, is thrilled with the increasing coverage of citizens’ every move.

Attorney Vitold Walczak of the Pittsburgh ACLU office said there are “concerns” over these systems invading privacy.

“It really comes down to how the data is stored and who has access to it,” he said.

“Going back over footage to find evidence of a crime is one thing, but using it to track people, like say, political enemies, that’s a problem, and the city needs to have policy protections in place for that.”

Burgess said the Shotspotter system to be installed in Homewood is reactionary. The cameras are linked to the gunshot detectors.

“The cameras are only used if a crime is committed—no one is sitting there monitoring people’s every move,” he said. “But as you can see from these two cases, they can be extremely useful. “

Burgess said because the system can identify where a shot was fired within a matter of feet within seconds, it will increase police response time and could lead to quicker arrests. In that case, the system could also have a deterrent effect on future shootings.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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