Policy Committee addresses needs for South Side neighborhood

Testifiers detail concerns, issues in local neighborhood

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 8 – State Rep. Jessica Benham hosted a PA House Democratic Policy Committee hearing this morning on improving public safety and nightlife, specifically in the South Side neighborhood. In front of a standing-room crowd, the committee heard testimony from residents, police, city officials and local business owners. 

“Those of us who live here know the challenges that we have faced, recently and stretching into the past, and I know – from my conversations with my colleagues – that many of these challenges are shared by other communities throughout Pennsylvania,” Benham said.

Linda Rosato-Barone, acting deputy chief of Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Police, noted the concerning fact that youth are often involved in crime happening in the neighborhood – and noted she sees a lack of outlets for youth.  

“We know that solutions require working together at every level of government,” Benham said. “I’m focused on what can be done and working with all stakeholders to find a solution and improve public safety.”  

Benham noted that last month, $7.7 million in state funding was approved to address youth violence prevention in South Pittsburgh.   

“When it comes to nighttime economy, there’s room for reform in Pennsylvania,” said Allison Harnden, who is Pittsburgh’s nighttime economy manager. “During the pandemic, we lost so many workers in our nighttime economy. If you have a consistent nighttime staff, you will have consistent safety practices.”  

Several business owners with deep family ties in the neighborhood detailed their desire for an increased police presence and a need for increased public safety to sustain growth and long-term stability for the community. Business owners noted they scaled back daytime hours because nighttime violence has affected daytime business. 

Residents also voiced concerns. 

“As residents we support our nighttime economy, but we would like to see a more diverse business community – one that’s less dependent on only drinking,” said South Side Community Council President Barbara Rudiak. “We are looking to the state to review liquor license laws that currently favor applicants over the residents who live here.” 

After hearing about the violence in the area, Rep. Arvind Venkat, D-Allegheny, noted he has treated victims from South Side gun violence during his work as an emergency physician, and he wanted to know if the city had explored other models around the country that could be implemented in the South Side. Unfortunately, police have not found a successful model to use, looking to Baltimore and New Orleans – among other cities – former Zone 3 Police Commander John Fisher said.  

“I think it’s important to note that this is not just a city problem, there are many smaller municipalities in Pennsylvania that must deal with the same unique challenges,” said State Rep. Paul Takac, who represents portions of Centre County, including State College. “There are costs in supporting a nightlife industry infrastructure, such as police and EMS services, that are borne by local residents and taxpayers. How do we quantify both the hard costs and the quality-of-life issues? Who is bearing those costs – and is that fair?”