On April 30 Pittsburgh City Council voted to install surveillance cameras and gun shot detectors in Homewood, a neighborhood that has seen a rash of homicides over the years. The legislation, proposed by District 9 Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess, passed by a vote of seven to two.
“We know these cameras will save lives. In the community, I represent there is a fear of cooperating with police,” Burgess said, prior to Tuesday’s vote. “The violence has gotten to such a point that something needs to be done. We know in light of the recent Boston incident how important surveillance technology is.”
The legislation calls for the installation of an estimated 60 high-definition pan-tilt-zoom cameras and 54 gunshot detectors. The high-tech system, which will cost approximately $1.5 million, will be installed in a 3-square-mile area in and around Homewood.
Debate against the legislation focused on the extension of a four year contract with Avrio RMS and ShotSpotter to install the new system. Critics on council said they believed the contract for the new technology should go through a competitive bidding process.
“What you had was opposition from the (Councilman) Bill Peduto’s forces on council to stop this process because the cameras are going into predominantly African-American communities,” Burgess said prior to the vote. “Twice before this contract was extended to put cameras Downtown and in the Mexican War Streets. There was no conversation then. Now there’s all of a sudden a need to rebid the agreement. What they’re saying is this is too much money to put in these communities.”
Despite Burgess’ accusations against Peduto who is running for mayor in the upcoming primary, the District 8 Councilman voted in favor of Burgess’ legislation.
Council representatives Natalia Rudiak, and Patrick Dowd, whose district includes the Zone 5 police station, which oversees Homewood and has the highest rates of homicide and aggravated assault so far this year, voted against the legislation. They said the city should invest in other safety measures such as increasing the number of officers in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
“Everyone deserves to live in a safe community, but I believe what has been proposed today will not make our streets safer,” said Rudiak, who represents District 4 and is running for reelection.
District 2 Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety Services and voted in favor of the legislation, said this technology has been requested by the city’s police commanders and could be implemented citywide. She said the Public Safety Committee is also looking at increasing the number of officers in underserved neighborhoods.
The new technology has been installed in 85 cities and three countries around the world. According to Burgess, reports indicate there is a 40 percent reduction in gunshots fired in the areas where these systems are installed.

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