Report criticizes PIRC, city’s anti-crime initiative

Sadie Gurman (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) | June 15, 2011

An ambitious crime-fighting strategy aimed at reducing the city’s homicide rate is too narrowly focused on gang violence and needs to widen its scope, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems.

A draft report points to several flaws in both the concept and the execution of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, a comprehensive approach that enlists law enforcement, social services and community leaders in an effort to quell gang gunplay, which police have said accounts for most of the city’s violence. However, the city’s homicide rate has not declined since the program started.

The message of the program is simple. Police and victims confront gang members at a “call-in” meeting and tell them to stop killing or face massive group punishment the next time someone pulls a trigger. Service providers then offer an array of help.

The city-commissioned report is not the final assessment of the program. Ralph Bangs, the center’s associate director and the lead author on the report, described it as an internal draft that has not been released to the public and is subject to change. He declined to comment.

City officials said many changes already have been proposed for the program.

Among their findings, researchers wrote that Pittsburgh police have focused too narrowly on gang members listed in a “tightly guarded central gang database” and not enough on members of other groups that are at risk for violence, such as parolees.

City police, for example, hardly relied on a report by the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute that identified 35 “violent groups” in Pittsburgh and determined that 69 percent of the city’s homicides from 2007 to early 2010 were “group-related.”

City police, for example, hardly relied on a report by the University of Cincinnati Policing Institute that identified 35 “violent groups” in Pittsburgh and determined that 69 percent of the city’s homicides from 2007 to early 2010 were “group-related.”

The PIRC law enforcement team instead relied on its own intelligence that showed only two of the 12 homicides that happened in the city during the first quarter of 2011 were “gang-related.”

“If PIRC only tries to address 17 percent of the homicide problem, it will most likely have little impact,” the researchers wrote.

“Focusing on gangs and gang members for call-ins is a major deviation from the model. The effect is that violent groups that are not gangs and group members not in gangs are being missed in the call-ins, which means that they may not be getting the PIRC message,” the draft report said.

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