Plan of Attack | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Dave Adams' townhouse sits at the end of a quiet dead-end street in the East Hills. As he stands outside, a couple of young neighborhood girls run up to say hello. He greets them, pats their heads and sends them back to their yard to continue playing.

Despite the calm, "You can go right out to the end of that block and buy all the drugs you want," says Adams, the 48-year-old CEO and founder of the Conscience Group, a community think tank that works to solve community problems and issues. "They used to drive their cars right down in here, until one day I told them to leave this area alone.

"They could do whatever they wanted out there, but this was my neighborhood. They haven't been back since because they know I'm watching, so they went somewhere else."

A desire to repeat that success on a citywide scale is the main reason that Adams has decided to run as an independent in the November election against Democratic nominee Ricky Burgess. The winner will replace indicted councilor Twanda Carlisle, who was handily beaten by Burgess in the Democratic primary this May.

There are many problems in the 9th, which encompasses the mostly black neighborhoods in the city's East End. But Adams says there's one that has to be the main priority.

"I want to stop politicizing the violence going on in this city's black neighborhoods and give the people of the 9th District unconditional safety," says Adams. "Economic development is also very important, but economic development will not come to the 9th District until we stop the violence going on every day in our streets."

Burgess too has rolled out a crime-prevention program, one based on an initiative used in Boston. The plan consists of a two-pronged attack joining social-service agencies and the police to focus on four core areas -- crime prevention, intervention, prosecution and reintegration. For example, the police address a certain block or area with targeted sweeps. Once the area is hit by law enforcement, the social-service side of the equation comes in to help stabilize the neighborhood so the criminal element doesn't move back in. Although Burgess did not comment for this story, he has said all four approaches are vital to stemming the tide of violence.

For his proposal, Adams and his Conscience Group developed the Neighborhood Awareness Program. He calls it a comprehensive crime-prevention plan that, unlike others that have been offered, begins with the neighborhood residents taking the lead in crime prevention with the support of local government and police.

"We have seen far too many police- and government-led initiatives in this community, and we have a history that shows they have not been successful," Adams says. "That's where the neighborhood-awareness concept comes in.

"But while we have support from the chief of police, we have yet to have any luck getting the city to sit down and even look at our concept. ... You have to have the community, the police and the city government working in concert or it will not work. And unfortunately, the city government is being very stubborn."

Adams says the mayor's office has been moving ahead with some crime-prevention initiatives -- some foot patrols in troubled neighborhoods; meeting with clergy; and making complaint forms available in area churches. But he believes that if his plan were studied by the Ravenstahl administration, they'd see his plan was a complete program and not piecemeal initiatives.

Police Chief Nate Harper, who has met with Adams several times, says that the plan includes many good programs and initiatives that he is already developing for implementation.

Harper says the program resembles one that is credited with helping to clean up Baltimore's crime-ridden neighborhoods. He said that large-scale block watches acting as liaisons between the neighborhood and the police is one of the plan's best approaches; another is a system to provide complete anonymity for someone reporting a crime.

"We have to get people reporting crimes, or even when they suspect that something isn't right," Harper says. "To get them to do that, we have to assure them that if they call, there's not going to be a police officer showing up at their door so all of their neighbors know who called."

Harper says implementation of some of the initiatives is currently in the planning stages. He is also quick to credit Adams for taking the initiative to bring the plan forward.

"This guy is not in law enforcement; he's an average citizen who wants to make a difference in his community, so he went out and did the work." Harper says. "These are the types of people I want to hear from in the community. It's what we need to become a proactive and preventative police department, and not just a reactive one."

Adams says the Neighborhood Awareness Program starts by setting up a group of community investigators through an organization like Conscience. The investigators enter target communities and learn the community's needs when it comes to dealing with both violent and non-violent crime. The group would also act as a liaison between the community and the police. The program also offers "100 percent guaranteed anonymity" to anyone who shares information about a crime, Adams says; that way, "people don't have to worry about giving information about a crime and then have two police officers show up at their door.

"What we then do is take that information and we report it to the police," says Adams. "This would give the Pittsburgh police more specific targets in a particular neighborhood. Then, our police aren't so reactionary and actually working on crime prevention.

"This takes the politics out of police-community relations. It helps to build that relationship and establish trust between the community and the police."

Investigators would operate from the city's former Community Oriented Police mini-stations, so neighbors would have a place other than the police station to go with their problems. Adams sees those stations and the investigative teams staffed by alumni of the city's Citizens' Police Academy. The academy allows average citizens to attend training classes taught by law-enforcement agents to give them an understanding of basic criminal law and how the police bureau works. The course runs three hours a week for 12 weeks.

Adams says his plan also stresses job-placement for people with minor criminal offenses.

"We have to send a message to the thugs that you don't have power in this community over the people that are vested in it," Adams says. "We're going to show them who owns the streets, who has the real power in the neighborhoods."

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