Police, locals prompt communication

By Taylor Mulcahey / For the Pitt News

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The Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety is looking to connect students with public safety officials through a new campus program.

About 15 community members, police officers and members of the Department of Public Safety met at the Jewish Community Center Thursday night in Squirrel Hill for the monthly PGH Zone 4 Public Safety Meeting.

These meetings give officers and public officials the chance to communicate directly with members of the community and to give community members a chance to voice their concerns with crime in their neighborhoods. Zone 4 is comprised of 17 neighborhoods, including Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and Greenfield.

John Tokarski, the Community Outreach chair for the Department of Public Safety, announced at Thursday’s meeting that the department would institute “Campus Safety Councils” to foster dialogue among students and public safety institutions.

Students would voice their concerns in a personal one-on-one conversation with officials from police, EMS and fire departments rather than going through the current bureaucratic system.

“Students don’t participate in meetings, the biggest problem is personal connection,” Tokarski said. “We need a freshness in all of our public organizations.”

Tokarski is now beginning to meet with administrators from Pitt, Duquesne, Carlow, Point Park and Carnegie Mellon to plan the logistics of the program, such as where the meetings will be held and how the department will notify students.

Tokarski said he hopes the program, which will launch at the beginning of the fall semester, will foster a new generation of community leaders by encouraging them to take part in public meetings.

In addition to announcing the council announcement, officers Shannon Leshen and Thomas Pauley led a brief conversation about crime incidents. Leshen and Pauley said it’s important to focus on locating accurate information in a time when rumors circulate quickly on the Internet.

To exemplify the prevalence of crime in the zone, Leshen distributed a sheet with small dots marking the locations of various vehicle thefts reported in Point Breeze. Leshen said police had arrested two men in relation to the case.

“I can’t think of a time that’s more important to understand the police than the time we live in now,” Councilman Bruce Kraus, who attended the meeting, said.

Officers stressed the importance of networks of public trust, which zone meetings encourage.

Tokarski introduced a number of upcoming events that promote a greater relationship between the community and the police, including the Citizen’s Police Academy, a 15-week class that gives citizens an introduction into the training that officers undergo.

“[The Citizen’s Police Academy] gives [participants] an internal look at the police department, and misconceptions about the police evaporate,” said Tokarski.

Though these meetings encourage community engagement, the organization has been struggling in recent years to uphold high levels of participation. Many members voiced frustration at trying to recruit new attendees.

In comparison with Zone 1, comprising of the northern neighborhoods, Zone 4 has very low community involvement, which members would like to see increase in the upcoming years. In order to accomplish this, the organization will be restructured in the next couple months to include community-based leadership, rather than leadership by officers and representatives from the department of public safety.

Judy Stump and Denise Parker represent the Lincoln Place Church of Nazarene and attend these meetings in order to connect in any way they can to the Pittsburgh community.

“We’re from the 31st ward, and things can be very disconnected. These meetings bring people together,” Parker said.

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