Impact squad now watching Oakland

By Liz Navratil

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Nearly a dozen officers scribbled their signatures on a paper attached to the white dry-erase… Nearly a dozen officers scribbled their signatures on a paper attached to the white dry-erase board tucked into a corner of the Pitt police station. They enthusiastically volunteered to be part of the Impact Overtime Detail, which the Pitt police now runs in conjunction with the city police, said Pitt police Chief Tim Delaney. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, three city police officers and one of their supervisors patrol the streets of Oakland. ‘There’s a certain rush to it,’ said Delaney. ‘You’re always doing something,’ said Cmdr. Francis Walsh, who works on the detail. ‘You’re always busy,’ he added, a wide smile stretching across his face. The detail is part of an effort to crack down on minor incidents in an effort to reduce the opportunities for more serious crimes, such as rapes or shootings. Students may or may not notice a difference, depending on how they behave. ‘If they’re stumbling down drunk or urinating in public, they’re unfortunately gonna pay the price for it. This isn’t Mardi Gras in Oakland,’ said Sgt. William Vollberg of the Zone 4 city police, which covers Oakland. Vollberg said that if minor incidents go unpunished, ‘the behavior compounds.’ Delaney said this philosophy can be traced back to former New York police department Commissioner Lee Brown. ‘You take care of the little things,’ said Delaney, ‘and the big ones go away.’ And Oakland had its share of major events this summer. For example, one night in June, the Pitt police responded to a fight outside a hookah bar and worked with city police to address a separate shooting outside the McDonald’s on Forbes Avenue between Atwood Street and Oakland Avenue. Delaney said he got a phone call from city police Chief Nathan Harper following the shooting outside McDonald’s.’ It was then that city police and Delaney decided to create a team to patrol Oakland. ‘It didn’t surprise me because we have this type of conversation when a big event occurs ‘- maybe a war protest or a basketball game,’ said Delaney. The idea was an old one. The Pitt and city police began Impact in 1988, when Oakland was bustling with activity, said Walsh, who worked the detail then, as well. ‘Like the South Side is now ‘- 20 years ago, that’s how busy Oakland was,’ said Walsh. ‘Because of the amount of alcohol, there was a lot of activity.’ Both Walsh and Delaney said the detail fizzled out when the party left Oakland. But the two stations have maintained a close relationship since the first Impact squad left five or six years ago. That made the transition into the detail a smooth one. ‘It’s no different from what we normally do on any given day,’ said Vollberg, of the city police. ‘The dynamics are the same.’ But the bonds grow stronger. The officers at both stations rotate in and out of the squad, which is open to any officers who want to volunteer for it. As a result, the officers are working with different people every few times they work the detail. ‘You don’t even realize it,’ said Delaney, who worked on Impact in the late ’80s. ‘When you work together, you do develop a bond. Because you’re walking for eight hours, you just start talking.’ Delaney said the current Impact Overtime Detail is here indefinitely. If Oakland ‘quiets or becomes uneventful,’ he said, the city might pull the detail. Currently, the city police covers the cost of its officers, and the Pitt police shell out the $30-or-so per hour for each of its officers on the team. Delaney said Impact is ‘no more built into the budget than when the Steelers won the Super Bowl,’ which goes to say that it’s not factored in at all ‘mdash; following the Steelers’ 2006 Super Bowl victory, masses of people flooded into the streets, congesting traffic and burning couches or flipping cars. But Delaney said his boss, Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran, has been supportive of Impact. ‘Thankfully, the University fully understands the justification for what I want to do,’ said Delaney. ‘We base our decisions on what’s best for the students, and if you’re on that track, you can’t fail.’

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