PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh's new police chief decried the city's homicide rate as a "public health emergency" and promised to work with the community to defuse the culture that has fueled a spate of retaliatory killings in which 71 people died last year.
That was the most since 2008, when the city had 74 killings. The city's 10-year average is 55 homicides annually.
But the statistics cited Thursday by Chief Cameron McLay show that both victims and perpetrators tend to have long criminal records.
The 34 people arrested so far for those 71 killings have been arrested 220 times, or an average of six arrests per perpetrator. The 71 victims have been arrested 478 times, an average of seven per victim.
The chief says, "There's a pattern here of retaliatory violence among groups on the fringe of criminality."
During Thursday morning’s news conference, high-ranking police officials, including Chief McLay, talked how they plan on keeping the homicide rate down in 2015.
According to Chief McLay, identifying the most violent suspects in each community will be a priority.
“Then, we all have to focus our attention. We have to place them on notice that the violence stops today,” McLay said.
Officers are also using newly placed technology, called “ShotSpotter,” to help with investigations. The tool is placed in several communities and alerts police when sounds of gunfire are heard.
“Last night shots fired in the 7600 of Hamilton detected gunshots. Officers responded and recovered shell casings,” said Cmdr. RaShall Brackney.
Of the 71 homicides reported last year, officials said 40 percent of those were drug-related.
Assistant Chief Maurita Bryan said unsolved cases are often left unsolved because of lack of information from the public.
Thelma Glenn, the sister of the last homicide victim of 2014, made an emotional plea asking for help in solving her loved one’s murder.
“She was a beautiful person who had a heart of gold. They have to find the person who did this to her,” Glenn said. “Somebody knows something about my sister’s murder.”
Kimberly Waller was shot and killed on Dove Way in Pittsburgh’s South Side on Dec. 27. Police say the 43-year-old jitney driver was shot in the head.
When questioned about the increase in homicides related to increasing gang activity, McClay said he is staying away from the word “gang” purposely.
“There are groups involved with chaotic dysfunctional criminal behavior,” said McClay.
Pittsburgh’s Zone 5 had 27 homicide cases in 2014, the most in the city.