Last year was a violent year in Pittsburgh. There were more murders than any year since 2008. There were more than 1,300 aggravated assaults, up 4 percent over 2013. And instances of violent crime shifted to the city center from the South Side Flats, which had the most violent crime for the previous four years.
The Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s annual report normally comes out during the summer, but it took nearly a full year for the 2014 report to be completed. With the addition of Chief Cameron McLay, it was certainly a year of change for the police bureau that also had to cope with emerging trends across a variety of city neighborhoods.
Crime stats from 2015 will be released next year.
The city defied national and, generally, local trends of decreasing crime. Violent crime in the city was up 2.5 percent over 2013, while property crime was down nearly 7 percent.
Violent crime in 2014 was basically the same as in 2012, though lower than in 2010 and 2011. Property crime in 2014 was lower than at any point in the previous four years.
The statistics come from the Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s 2014 annual report, which compiles a variety of information about the police force and crime in the city, including crimes by neighborhood.
The statistics are compiled and reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation using a unified set of standards to define crimes. The violent crime data includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes include burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
More homicides and violent crime
Violent crime rose, as did homicides, in 2014. Some neighborhoods that had seen fewer incidents in recent years faced increased violence in 2014.
The bureau tallied 71 murders for the year, the highest since 2008, when there were 74 murders.
(Note: When classifying the murders by neighborhood, the report lists only 69 homicides. Sonya Toler, a police spokeswoman, did not respond with an explanation for the discrepancy in time for publication.)
From 2011 to 2013, between 40 and 46 murders occurred in the city each year.
2014 homicides were clustered in Homewood South and Homewood North, which had 11 murders combined, according to the report. Homewood South had seven, which increased from four in 2013. Homewood North had four, which is down one from 2013. Meanwhile, Homewood West had a single killing.
Garfield, which had seen seven total homicides from 2010 through 2013, had an additional five killings last year.
Five murders happened in Knoxville in 2014 after having eight total homicides in the four-year period before that.
Downtown topped South Side Flats in violent crime
For the first time in the past five years, downtown topped South Side Flats for the highest number of violent crimes in 2014.
From 2010 through 2013, South Side Flats had the highest number of violent crimes out of any city neighborhood.
Downtown, also known as the central business district, has been among the neighborhoods with the most violent incidents in the past five years. It had fewer violent crimes (84) in 2013, but that now appears to be an outlier as it is the only year in the past five when downtown had fewer than 100 violent incidents.
In 2012, 94 percent of residents surveyed felt downtown was “safe” or “very safe” during the day, according to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which surveyed 571 downtown residents. Only 58 percent felt safe in downtown at night and far fewer felt it was “very safe.”
In 2012, there were 120 violent crimes downtown, more than the 115 that occurred in 2014.
Neighborhoods: Crime up in Fairywood and South Oakland
While the neighborhood has a checkered past and a dwindling population, Fairywood has been among the neighborhoods with the lowest crime rates in the city in recent years. In 2014, however, there were 13 aggravated assaults in the neighborhood of 1,000 people.
As the city’s westernmost neighborhood near Moon Run and Interstate 79, Fairywood’s 2014 violent crime rate was almost twice the median rate and was the first time the neighborhood was higher than the median in our five years of data.
South Oakland also saw increased violent crime in 2013 and even more in 2014 over the previous three years. From 2010 to 2012, South Oakland had eight to 10 violent crimes a year, but that increased to 16 in 2013 and 26 in 2014.
While the neighborhood’s violent crime rate was once on par with other East End neighborhoods Stanton Heights, Highland Park and North Oakland, it has diverged in recent years. In 2014, South Oakland’s violent crime rate was closer to Marshall-Shadeland or Point Breeze North.
Neighborhoods: Crime down in Allentown, Troy Hill and others
Allentown, the neighborhood of 2,500 just east of Mount Washington, had one of the higher violent crime rates in the city back in 2010 and 2011. Since then, violent crime in the neighborhood has steadily decreased. In 2014, its violent crime rate had been cut in half since 2010.
Even though there has been a murder in the neighborhood each year from 2012 to 2014, the total number of violent incidents has decreased from 63 in 2010 to 30 in 2014.
Troy Hill, which is across the Allegheny River from the Strip District, was featured by NextPittsburgh as the next hot real estate market. Home to 2,700 residents, many prospective homebuyers who have been priced out of Lawrenceville and East Liberty are looking to Troy Hill, according to the article.
There was a 42 percent decrease in violent and property crime in Troy Hill from 2013 to 2014. There were only 15 violent incidents in the neighborhood last year, although that did include one murder, the first since 2010. It’s impossible to know yet whether this was a one-year decrease in crime or part of a larger trend as new residents move into the neighborhood.
Crime in all three sections of Lawrenceville continues to decrease. The violent crime rates in Lawrenceville are now consistent with other East End neighborhoods like Friendship and Highland Park, but still higher than Shadyside or Squirrel Hill.
Pittsburgh police continue to lack diversity.
Since McLay took leadership 9 months into 2014, he has made a major push to improve relations between his officers and the community. It had been badly strained by years of mistrust and by controversial incidents like the beating of Jordan Miles in 2010 and the shooting of Leon Ford Jr. in 2012. Both are young black men and were unarmed.
He’s often remarked that he is hopeful that change will happen exponentially, based on positive interactions between residents and officers. Many officers have taken that to heart, making themselves available to the community, and to young black men specifically, not only in times of crisis, but also in everyday interactions.
“We don’t have to change the entire world,” McLay said in October. “We just have to change enough of a proportion of us to say, you know what, we want to do things differently.”
Demographically, however, there’s a lot of work to be done.
According to the 2014 report, only 13 percent of the police force is black. The city however, is 26 percent black, according to 2010 census figures.
As Pittsburgh City Paper pointed out last year, the force has become less diverse over time. Back in 1990 — a year before a court-imposed quota system for hiring was dismantled — the force was 22 percent black.
According to the report, 38 black officers were fully eligible to retire in 2015. They won’t be quickly replaced. The March 2014 recruiting included only three black members.
Just 17 percent of the total force is female. Only nine females were in the recruiting class, according to the report.
Two officers are listed as American Indian or Alaskan; six officers are Asian or Pacific Islander; and eight officers are Hispanic. Meanwhile, 729 officers are white.
McLay has said that he wants to improve diversity and also expand the size of the force and increase opportunities to join as a recruit.
The March 2014 class included 54 recruits. According to the report, 204 officers out of 856 total were listed as fully eligible to retire in 2015.
Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-315-0265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing. Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.