Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Police is split into six different zones, each covering collections of neighborhoods of varying size and demographic composition. Each zone has different needs and different challenges. Some zones face serious violent crime issues while others face public nuisance issues. Some zones include many dense business districts and commercial areas while others include primarily residential neighborhoods. Some zones have a rich tapestry of neighborhood block watches and a great deal of citizen participation in crime awareness and prevention while others face chronic issues of trust between the community and the officers sworn to protect them. We all know how different our neighborhoods are and how different their needs and challenges are but our current system of top-down decision making in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police can sometimes make it hard to adequately address these needs and challenges. It’s time to rethink our police command structure and build a more robust neighborhood-focused policing strategy.
1. Empower Leaders in Our Police Zones
Each police zone has a collection of leaders including a commander, lieutenants, sergeants, and supervisors. These leaders and the rank and file officers who answer to them are the eyes and ears on the streets of our neighborhoods. They know the communities and they know the unique challenges each once faces. However, our current system of decision-making in the Bureau doesn’t give them enough control over their zones and leaves major decisions about staffing, deployment, resources, and tactics to administrators at Bureau headquarters on Western Avenue. A one-size-fits all approach developed from the top down and applied to all zones equally fails to recognize the clear diversity of needs and challenges among our six zones. It’s time to empower these local zone leaders and allow them more control over their zones.
For example, Zone 4 includes some of the city’s densest business districts in neighborhoods like Oakland, Shadyside, and Squirrel Hill, business districts that would be well suited to patrol by officers on bicycles. Yet, Zone 4 leaders get the same allocation of bicycle officers as zones with smaller, more dispersed business districts. We have to start tailoring the makeup of the officers in our zones with the clear needs of those zones and those decisions are best left in the hands of the people on the ground working those areas every day.
Empowering leaders in each police zone with more decision-making ability will also allow greater opportunity for innovation and experimentation that could lead to the development of new strategies in some zones that could be applied to others if proven successful. We should take better advantage of the great talent in our Bureau of Police and put more trust in our zone leaders.