Pubdate: Thu, 08 Jan 2009
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2009 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Moriah Balingit


Last year, suburban communities in Allegheny County hit a gruesome

County police logged 45 homicides, just two more than 2007, but the
highest total in the department's history. That number may rise to 47
after investigations are complete.

That rise was accompanied by an increase in the city, which had 79
homicides, four short of its 1993 record.

There were no dramatic rises in individual communities, and according
to Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University,
the number represents a normal fluctuation.

Still, it's hard to ignore.

"I think it's a concern to everybody," said Robinson Police Chief
Dale Vietmeier, president of the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police

He had been unaware of the record and his township had no homicides
last year.

"It's not me personally, but sure, it affects everybody."

The majority of the suburban homicides occurred in communities east
and south of Pittsburgh. Penn Hills had the most, with six.

Wilkinsburg, with four last year, may have already had its first
homicide of 2009. On Tuesday evening, the body of Aljermire Dewberry
was found in the passenger seat of a car that was on fire.

Last year, Wilkinsburg was the site of two homicides that galvanized
the community.

Kia Johnson, 18, was nearly nine months pregnant when police said
Andrea Demus-Curry, 38, lured the teenager to her Wilkinsburg
apartment, then bound her and sliced the baby from her womb.

Ms. Demus-Curry brought the baby to a local hospital, claiming it was
her own.

The brutality of the case garnered national media  attention, and led
to scrutiny of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, where Ms.
Curry-Demus, who had a lengthy history of mental illness, was once a

On April 18, 12-year-old Kholen Germany was killed after running into
the Head 2 Toe clothing store to take shelter from a man shooting
from across the street. Police said the man who fired the fatal shot,
Kevin Johnson, had mistaken Kholen for a man who was shooting at him
from the same side as the store.

More than 200 mourners packed a small church in Wilkinsburg to
remember the boy, who had endeared himself to local store owners by
running errands for  them. Kholen also was known in the neighborhood
for excelling in school.

The nature of the suburban homicides differed -- some were domestic,
some arose from fights that got overheated, and one is believed to be
over a cell  phone. There was no singular explanation for the rise.

But Lt. William Palmer, of the Allegheny County  Homicide Unit, said
the No. 1 cause of homicides in outlying communities in 2008 was
drugs. At least half  of the homicides his detectives handled had drug

Lt. Palmer said homicides often result from armed robberies that turn
lethal. Sometimes, they were retaliation for drug deals gone bad or

Part of the challenge of addressing the widespread drug problem in
outlying communities is they span municipal borders. Allegheny County
has more than 100 suburban police departments, some of which have as
few as three full-time officers.

Richard Garland, of One Vision One Life, a county anti-violence
initiative, said drug dealers are taking advantage of smaller police
departments and communities that have fewer resources for law

"Right now, I've seen guys move from community to community, where
they used to stay put," he said. "[Local police] are not equipped to
handle this problem, which is why guys ... go to places where there 
are only three [full-time] police officers and the rest are part-time."

One way the county addresses systemic crime issues -- such as gang
and crime networks -- is through task forces that employ law
enforcement at many levels. Local, county and sometimes even federal
agencies take  part.

The task forces seem to be effective. In October, a task force of 250
agents from local, state, county and federal agencies arrested 31
people involved in a number of overlapping violent drug networks in
the  eastern suburbs. Those 31, plus an additional 20 connected with
the networks, were indicted in federal court on a variety of charges.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's office said some of the
suspects indicted had connections to a dozen homicides.

Still, McKeesport Chief Joseph Pero said the system isn't perfect and
could always be improved. He has four narcotics officers who work
with a countywide task force called the District Attorney's Narcotics
Enforcement Team. On many occasions, county police have come into
the city to target neighborhoods with a spike in gun violence.

"They try to take a proactive approach, hitting hot spots," he said.
"They'll come in and give us additional manpower."

But municipalities all have different record-keeping systems, and
Chief Pero said if there were just one system, it might be easier to
keep track of suspected drug dealers.

"We may have to reach out to another 'muni' if this guy who's selling
drugs in our community lives in their community," he said. "If there
was one sole data base, that would help out a lot."

Mr. Garland said law enforcement has limited utility, though, and
called on the "community to step up big time."

"It ain't law enforcement's job, it's our job."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin