OPDC talks neighborhood disturbances, police negligence with students


Zoom screenshot

Wednesday’s Oakwatch meeting over Zoom.

By Alex Saraff, For The Pitt News

For Janice Markowitz, an Oakland resident, the parties in Oakland “traumatize” her and other residents. 

 “A couple weeks ago I watched two students right in front of me fall off the balcony, intoxicated,” Markowitz said. “[I had] a student’s head through my window … like ‘Here’s Johnny’ from The Shining.”

The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. hosted an Oakwatch meeting called “Oakwatch: Trash and Student Conduct” on Wednesday over Zoom to discuss ongoing illegal activity, such as parties and underage drinking. Both residents and law enforcement attended the event to discuss these issues. 

Residents expressed their concerns about the frequency of these disruptive gatherings. OPDC director Wanda Wilson said these parties can cause unsafe situations, such as fire hazards. 

“There’s so much disruptive behavior happening in terms of off-campus parties, where there’s a lot of noise, unsafe conditions in terms of so many people in very small buildings,” Wilson said.

Wilson also said police intervention in this issue is necessary, given the constant illegal activity that residents, such as Kathleen Gallagher, reported.

“At 10 p.m., I watched more than 200 young girls walk up the street and go to a party … we have darkened houses where the parties are, and it’s been the same houses for 20 years,” Gallagher said. 

Gallagher said the hosts successfully evaded any accountability for these parties.

“Different students, same house. The house is dark. They have a spider outside. The spider tells them when the police are coming, they run or go to the next house,” Gallagher said. “I know officer Jeff can appreciate this because he’s been to the party.” 

Gallagher said she called an officer to address the situation, but nothing changed because the police never issued citations.

“I would really like this group and everyone involved to focus on prevention, rather than punishment and enforcing the code. Without citations, we have no recourse,” Gallagher said.

While determined to see accountability, Gallagher said she hesitated to involve the police due to fear of retaliation.

“I don’t want them coming to my house. In the past, I have been the victim of retaliation … That was one of the reasons the Oakwatch group was initially formed, because residents weren’t able to call the police for fear of retaliation,” Gallagher said.

Citations are vital to stopping parties because upon receiving three citations, the person would have to answer for them in court, according to City police officer Jeff Colello.

“Right now our system would require three different citations before you actually have to go in front of Judge Riccardi,” Colello said.

Pitt police Lieutenant Brad Kiefer answered residents’ concerns about the lack of local police interference. He said to write a citation, the party must cause an ongoing disturbance, which is often not the case. A strong reason is necessary to legally investigate these houses, according to Kiefer.

Wilson asked what the police do in the case of probable cause. 

”You know, if you are at an instance of a property where somebody has in fact called … too many people, too much noise and underage drinking, that would be probable cause — that’s against the law,” Wilson said. “So what are you doing at that point, when probable cause is in fact in place?” 

Office Kiefer said the Pitt police often cannot establish a probable cause. 

“In a lot of cases, I can tell you, there’s no complaint on the call. So therefore, we no longer have a victim,” Kiefer said. “So if the officer arrives, and they cannot establish their own probable cause, there’s no noise ordinance violation observed because they may be seeing the police officer.”

Markowitz also said she wished to have a good relationship with Pitt students living off campus, despite these issues. 

“There are a lot of students that find residents as their second mother or father or parent away from home,” Markowitz said.