Community Focus Groups to Address Violence in Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

City officials will launch focus groups to address public safety and create “neighborhood-based initiatives” to address violent crime in Homewood, officials said at a community meeting Tuesday night.

During his campaign, Mayor Ed Gainey promised to implement policing and public safety reforms, especially in black neighborhoods he says are over-policed.

“The only way it’s going to work is if we get together,” Gainey said. “Because otherwise, our children die. They have inherited a cycle of violence and a culture of violence that only we can stop.

Gainey said the violence is a public health crisis and highlighted the role of the community in directing people at risk of committing a crime to services and resources that could help them.

Pittsburgh Police Department data shows that homicides in Pittsburgh rose from 39 in 2019 to 49 in 2020. The number rose to 51 in 2021. Many of them were committed using firearms. Non-fatal shootings and aggravated assaults with a firearm also increased over the three years.

Dr. Heath Johnson, crime analyst coordinator for the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, said property crimes like burglary, theft and arson increased by 3% from 2020 to 2021.

These are only slight increases, and crime rates in Pittsburgh are still below historic highs of the 1980s and 1990s.

Gainey created a Community Health and Safety Transition Team in 2021 to develop “actionable and holistic” recommendations on preventing gun violence and other public health and safety issues. Any solution will require “everyone on deck,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and committee member.

“Even if our numbers aren’t increasing further, even if they’re not increasing at a national rate, they’re still way too high,” Harris said. “Even one of these murders is too many.”

In any city, Harris said, a limited number of people are at greatest risk of being victims or perpetrators of gun violence and can be identified using social mapping tools. He postulated that providing those at risk with social services, education and even jobs could stop violence before it happens.

“We have to…save these people. Do not point fingers at what the government is doing, what the police are doing or anyone else. When we talk about saving our community, we’ve always done it,” Gainey said at the community meeting.

Rebekkah Ranallo, the city’s neighborhood services manager, said while officials don’t have a concrete plan yet, they will rely on residents of those neighborhoods to decide what they need.

“This is just the beginning of the process, and we don’t have the solutions tonight,” she said. “We’re going to reach out to all of you to get you together again…in different groups with different areas of interest to hear from you on how we can come up with this plan.”

Officials have not offered a timeline for the start of these meetings.

Previous DEI Speaker Series: Pursuing Equity Through Culturally Appropriate Focus Groups: An Informal Conversation
Next Multi-County Regional Housing Study, Ongoing Surveys | News