Analyzing Pittsburgh’s violent crime

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Analyzing Pittsburgh’s violent crime

Compared to the whole city, Oakland is one of Pittsburgh's safest neighborhoods. Graphic: Emily Hower, Layout Editor

Compared to the whole city, Oakland is one of Pittsburgh's safest neighborhoods. Graphic: Emily Hower, Layout Editor

Compared to the whole city, Oakland is one of Pittsburgh's safest neighborhoods. Graphic: Emily Hower, Layout Editor

Compared to the whole city, Oakland is one of Pittsburgh's safest neighborhoods. Graphic: Emily Hower, Layout Editor

By Rina Zhang / For The Pitt News

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While there’s been a decrease in violent crime in Pittsburgh, experts are wary of saying whether it’s a sign of promise — or population change.

This August, the Allegheny Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Police, released a statistical snapshot of crime in Pittsburgh over the past five years. The report, titled, “Overall Trends in Violence, 2010-2015,” is part of the police department’s push for transparency and data-driven policing, according to Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay.

For the five full years the report covers, the total number of violent incidents has decreased. In 2010, there were 2,849 reports of shots fired, 171 shootings, 55 homicides and 286 aggravated assaults with a gun, totaling 3,361 incidents in Pittsburgh. By 2015, the total number of incidents dropped to 1,640, with 1,379 calls for shots fired, 169 aggravated assaults with a gun, 73 shootings and 19 homicides.

The decline in incidents may not mean that Pittsburgh has become less violent, according to Christine Sarteschi —  a criminology professor at Chatham University — who reviewed the report alongside her colleague, Nichole Bayliss.

“As it currently stands, it is unclear whether the decrease is due to an actual decrease in cases or just due to population migration out of these areas,” Sarteschi said.

McLay has gained national recognition for his dedication to community involvement in police efforts after he was photographed on New Year’s Eve holding a sign that read, “I resolve to challenge racism at work. #EndWhiteSilence” At a press conference on Sept. 16, McLay described plans to reduce violence in Pittsburgh.

“That would involve getting together with the moral voice of the community, those people in the lives of the young people who are engaged in this kind of violence and helping them to make better choices,” he said.

The compiled records will be of use to both a public that wants to be informed about violence in Pittsburgh and the police that seek to prevent it, according to McLay.

“[The data] is one effort toward that — using data to measure and precisely define the areas and the individuals driving the violence,” McLay said.

The report contains the number of records for three types of violent crime ­— homicides, aggravated assaults with a gun and shootings, as well as the number of shots fired.

In the past five years there were two shootings, two aggravated assaults and one homicide in Central Oakland. In 2015, there was one homicide for all of North and Central Oakland, but the report does not list any incidents other than this in the area for 2015.

Some popular neighborhoods off campus did not fare as well.

From 2010 to 2015, Bloomfield had three homicides, nine shootings and 14 aggravated assaults with a gun. North Oakland had five homicides, three shootings and three aggravated assaults with a gun. Friendship had one homicide and three aggravated assaults with a gun. And Squirrel Hill South had one homicide, two shootings and two aggravated assaults with a gun.

Pittsburgh’s highest numbers came from Homewood South, where there were 21 homicides, 56 shootings and 81 aggravated assaults.

Although there has been less violence overall, the city of Pittsburgh is ranked 10th nationally in murders per capita with 15.3 homicides annually for every 100,000 people. Philadelphia ranked sixth nationally with 21 homicides for every 100,000 people per year. Detroit ranked first with 40.7 homicides per 100,000 people annually.

In Pittsburgh, the police have solved 48 percent of the 275 murders committed since 2010.

While the number of homicides police solve annually is often of public interest, Sarteschi suggested the number of solved crimes — or clearance rate — is not a reliable measure of the performance of a police department.

“The clearance rate is often used as a measure of police efficacy but many scholars believe that it is an inadequate measure because it does not account for situational or jurisdictional factors, which are outside the control of police,” Sarteschi said.

Situational factors may include the type of homicide, according to Sarteschi.

“For instance, stranger homicides are more difficult to investigate than non-stranger homicides,” Sarteschi said. “In the case of stranger homicides, it might be more difficult to identify suspects or potential witnesses and thus the police might have fewer leads.”

Jurisdictional factors depend on the area where the crime took place.

“Certain communities may be more socially disorganized and thus have residents who are less willing to cooperate with the police due to fear or distrust,” Sarteschi said. “In addition, residents in certain communities might not know one another, making it difficult to identify perpetrators and/or witnesses.”

Pittsburgh Police is working with government agencies to promote effective policing by improving relationships with the community. Pittsburgh is currently part of the Justice Department’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice ­— a program that seeks to build trust between civilians and police.

The attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, created the program in the fall of 2014. The Justice Department is implementing it in five other cities in response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

“The willingness of Chief McLay to work with these outside entities to reduce the crime rate in Pittsburgh is promising for the city,” Sarteschi said.

In Oakland, crime rates can get personal.

Last week, for example, an unknown man robbed a Pitt student at gunpoint in his home. In addition, someone broke into senior Emily Anthony’s house last summer.

“That was the only time I have felt genuinely unsafe in Pittsburgh,” Anthony, a mechanical engineering major, said. “I’m always hyper-aware as a precaution, but I’ve never been nervous or scared.”

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