Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

City Police Call Homicides a 'Public Health Emergency'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

City Police Call Homicides a 'Public Health Emergency'

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh police promised Thursday to make additional efforts to crack down on the violence that led to a spike in killings last year and to solve more of them this year.

"This is a public health emergency," Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay said during a news conference. "It's having a disparate impact on our underprivileged and our communities of color."

Police counted 71 homicides in the city in 2014, its deadliest year since 2008 when there were 79 homicides. The Allegheny County medical examiner's office reported 66 in the city. Some discrepancies occur in part because the offices count differently people who were injured in previous years and died as a result of their wounds in 2014.

Regardless of which statistics are used, the city's clearance rate for 2014 was less than 50 percent. By comparison, the national average for 2013, the latest year for which country-wide statistics were available, was about 64 percent, according to data kept by the FBI.

"The volume that we were facing, particularly the later half of this year, had us behind," Chief McLay said, noting that the bureau often operated in "defensive mode" while trying to respond to the large number of killings.

"The crime pattern is not a mystery," he said.

Police listed retaliation as the motive in 15 killings last year and drugs as the motive in 16. Robbery was a motive in 11.

Of the 71 cases the city listed, 26, had been cleared through an arrest and three by exceptional means - for example a murder- suicide or a suspect death - making the city's clearance rate roughly 41 percent.

Police said they had "strong suspects" but not enough to make an arrest in eight cases and six were pending review by the Allegheny County district attorney's office or a grand jury.

For the families affected, the wait for an arrest is an emotional one.

Thelma Glenn, who also attended the news conference, asked people to provide information about the death of her sister Kimberly Walls, who died after she was shot in the head, and her car crashed into a pole in Knoxville late last month. …

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