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Pittsburgh Police Will No Longer Respond to Calls That Aren’t Ongoing Emergencies, Here’s Why

Pittsburgh Police Will No Longer Respond to Calls That Aren’t Ongoing Emergencies, Here’s Why

Pittsburgh Police Will No Longer Respond to Calls That Aren’t Ongoing Emergencies, Here’s Why

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Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in Pennsylvania and home to over 310,000 people. To protect those residents, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has over 900 officers on its payroll; however, for the first time in a long time, it is experiencing serious staffing issues.

Low recruitment numbers in recent years have resulted in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s announcement that it will no longer respond to early morning calls that are not ongoing emergencies. Naturally, not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

The Bureau’s Announcement

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Larry Scirotto, Police Chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, announced at a press conference last week that they will be making one big change to its policies, effective immediately.

According to Chief Scriotto, from now on, any phone calls made to the police station between 3:00 AM and 7:00 AM that are not ongoing emergencies will be sent to a telephone reporting unit, otherwise known as an answering machine.

The Alarm Verification System

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The new system will require callers to confirm whether the situation they are calling about is happening in real-time to determine which calls are emergencies.

If it is, their call will be forwarded to an on-duty officer; if not, it goes to voicemail. Then, at 7:00 AM, the officer scheduled to work at the desk will listen to the voicemails and send officers as needed to assess any potential crimes.

Events Considered Emergencies

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According to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, anything that has already happened and cannot be stopped immediately with officer intervention will be classified as a non-emergency, and the police will not arrive on the scene to investigate until the next day.

Police Response to Alarm Systems Will Also Change

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Chief Scriotto claims that their reports shows that one of the most frustrating misuse of officers happens because of home security alarms. According to him, in 2023, the Pittsburgh police received 9,500 calls for burglary, but most were false alarms.

To remedy that, there now has to “be a second verification, a second authentication factor, such as it’s not just the front door, if there’s interior motion, there’s video, there’s audio, there’s glass break,” said Scirotto.

Understanding the Changes 

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Scirotto and his team did not make this decision lightly. They truly believe this is the only way to ensure the organization functions most effectively.

Historically, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police usually has anywhere between 850 to 990 officers employed, but as of March 2024, there are only about 740. Scriotto also says those working are simply worn out.

Lack of Manpower

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According to Bob Swartzwelder, president of the union that represents Pittsburgh police, “They’re running out of manpower very, very quickly, and they’re getting very taxed.”

However, that doesn’t mean Swartzwelder completely believes that Scriotto’s plan is the best course of action. He said, “I think the strategy at this point is a hope and a prayer that they can base everyone on data. It may pan out to be correct. It may be disastrous.”

Changing How the Police Work

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This latest change in how the police work comes just one year after the mayor promised to put more police in downtown Pittsburgh, where crime had risen.

To combat the crime downtown, a public safety center to be staffed with officers and social workers 24/7 was opened in the neighborhood.

What This Means For The Safety Center

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The police revealed the new change just one day after the safety center opened, and it will affect how things are done there.

For example, the center now only has 16 officers on duty from 8 a.m. to midnight daily—a far cry from the 24/7 on-duty team that people were looking forward to.

Downtown Crime Is Still a Worry

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Some locals are wondering how this change could impact the attempt to deter downtown crime.
Just last year, the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy released a report stating that rising crime in downtown Pittsburgh was “perhaps the most pressing matter before the city and county.”

What Residents Are Saying

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Pittsburgh residents have differing views on the latest police policy. Some are totally against the idea and feel that it will not benefit the city’s residents at all.

Rich Cupka, the owner of Cupka Café 2, is not one of those who don’t believe the policy is good. “The whole city of Pittsburgh is at risk,” Cupka told CBS News.

Some Locals Understand

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While some Pittsburgh residents don’t believe the force’s new policy will benefit the city at large, some can understand. However, among those who recognize why the step was taken, some still feel there could be a different alternative.

“I think a lot of the calls that can come can be handled through the telephone as they’re proposing it, but I just have concerns that they aren’t enough police officers,” Judy Hackel explained.

How Will the Announcement Affect Crime in Pittsburgh?

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DA Zappala and many other members of the Pittsburgh community are worried that the police chief’s announcement is not only detrimental to residents in need from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. but could also be dangerous.

It is too soon to determine what effects these new changes will have on the city, but some wonder if crime will increase, especially during the early morning hours when criminals know officers aren’t there to respond.

The Police Will Always Be Available

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Chief Scirotto and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police have assured residents that just because officers won’t be answering the phones does not mean they are not patrolling.

Scirotto said that now, between 3:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., there will be between 25 and 30 officers in the city. And said, “Average night, we’d have seven officers out on the road in each zone, so [we had] like 42 officers, generally. We cut 12. People think I cut 112.”

A Call For More Officers

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The bureau has been very vocal about wanting to hire more officers. According to Cara Cruz, a public information officer for the Department of Public Safety, the application process may be more straightforward for people as there is a new team on the ground to help out.

“These are the steps applicants have to go through just to GET to the academy,” Cruz explained. “This is where the bureau loses a significant amount of the applicants before they even sit in the Academy at day one. This is where the new recruitment team will be placing much of its focus.”