Submitted by Khrys Myrddin, GPPNA Secretary
On Saturday, November 19, 2011 the Regent Square Civic Association (RSCA) hosted a public safety meeting at the Mifflin Avenue Methodist Church on neighborhood crime prevention. A panel of police department representatives from Wilkinsburg, Swissvale, Edgewood and Pittsburgh discussed 911 calls, the importance of block watches and how to be aware of one’s surroundings.
Tom Montgomery, the chair of the RSCA Public Safety Committee facilitated the meeting. The panel consisted of: Sergeant Larry Singer, daylight shift commander, Wilkinsburg Police; Officer Keith Nugent, daylight patrol officer, Edgewood Police; Detective Segeant John Corrado, Swissvale Police; Officer Debra Indovina, Swissvale Police; and Officer Matt White, City of Pittsburgh Police.
The panel discussed issues related to calling 911 and provided tips for preventing crime in your neighborhood.
All members of the panel emphasized that residents should always call 911 if they see anything suspicious. No one knows our neighborhoods as well as we do, so if we see something that doesn’t seem right, we should call 911 and report it. It is, however, important for callers to be specific about what is going on and why the police are needed. Explain the circumstances of your call and, if it is safe for you to remain on the phone and continue to report on what is happening, do so. It is particularly helpful to provide accurate descriptions of the person(s) involved, especially their clothing. Even if the dispatcher is not asking you questions, keep telling them what you see and get them to stay on the line. When in doubt—call. Detective Corrado said, “You are not ‘bothering us’—this is why we are here, 24 hours a day.” He emphasized that it is better to allow the police to come check something out than to regret later that you did not make the call. You can remain anonymous when you make a report, so you should not worry that the police will tell the suspect who reported the activity.
Officer Nugent noted that the Borough of Edgewood was the last municipality to move to the county 911 system and he finds that Edgewood residents are sometimes reluctant to call 911 because they want to talk to Edgewood police, however, like the other officers, he emphasized that Edgewood residents must call 911. The Edgewood station does not have anyone at the desk after midnight, so in the morning officers will come in to discover multiple messages about crimes from the night before. Since the callers did not use 911, no one was dispatched at the time, greatly decreasing the chances that someone will be arrested.
Officer Indovina from Swissvale noted that the 911 system is changing. Dispatchers are trained to ask a long series of questions, but callers should be aware that as the operators are talking to you, they are dispatching people. Also, the dispatchers are trained to help you deal with first aid situations.
Officers noted that if you see or hear something, you should call—don’t assume that others have done so. 911 is required to pass along every call that comes in; they will be reprimanded if they do not. Officer Indovina emphasized that, even if you think something isn’t important enough to report, do it—the officers will prioritize their calls.
Audience members asked questions of the panel. A Wilkinsburg resident described a problem with some young boys regularly cutting through her property at the same time of day, but she was concerned about calling the police due to a fear of retaliation. One of the officers suggested that she call and make a report so the police could put a patrol in that area at that time, and if they see the person they can stop him and it would appear as though the police just “happened” to be in area and the kid was unlucky.
In response to another audience question, officers said to make sure that you have clearly marked house numbers, so that first responders can easily identify your house. It is also helpful to turn on your porch light if you are able. The panel suggested that you keep the exterior of your house lit during the night, using motion sensors or dawn-to-dusk photo sensors. If you have a motion light, let your neighbors know so that they will call the police if they see the lights go on suspiciously.
Home security systems are a good idea and there are affordable “self-monitoring” systems you can get for a one-time cost of approximately $100 if you have a home phone line. The panel disabused the audience of some misconceptions. Having a small or modest house is no protection against a break-in, and most break-ins occur during the day, not in the evening. Burglars want to strike when no one is home. If you come home from work and see that your door or window is broken/open—do not go into your house. Call the police immediately.
Other tips included:
- Keep your garages closed and locked.
- Lock your cars. Do not leave merchandise in your vehicle. Lock valuables in your trunk, especially laptops, wallets, purses, bags, GPS, and cell phones.
- When shopping at malls, place merchandise in your trunk and then move your car to a different location.
- There are criminals who watch parking lots for people putting valuables in their car.
- Stay aware of your surroundings—don’t walk at night absorbed in a phone conversation.
- Have your keys handy before you get to your car.
- Lock the windows and doors of your house.
- When putting boxes from expensive purchases out for recycling, break them down so they are not so obvious.
- Do not leave wrapped presents visible in your windows.
- Make it as difficult as possible for a burglar to get in to your home. Most criminals are going to look for the path of least resistance. Put your valuables in a safe, if possible. While it is true that anyone can break into your house, you should still make it hard.
- If someone does break in—don’t clean up! You may throw away or ruin evidence.
- Take out ground-level window air-conditioners in winter, secure them in summer with L brackets.
- Do not leave ladders outside of your house.
- Cut shrubs back from the house, keep exterior lights on.
- Big dogs are helpful.
- Most car break-ins are not actually break ins, but rather the car was left unlocked. Don’t let your kids play with your car key fobs—sometimes they will unwittingly unlock the car.
The officers say that Halloween to New Year’s is the biggest time of the year for property crime, so please keep the above in mind and have a safe, happy end to 2011!
City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police
- Chief of Police, Greg Geppert
Wilkinsburg Police Department
- Chief of Police, Ophelia Coleman