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Zone 5 commander: "I was very, very unhappy" about Henderson arrest

Posted by Elwin Green on August 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM

In a meeting held in State Rep. Ed Gainey's office Friday morning, Pittsburgh Police Zone 5 commander Timothy O'Connor expressed his displeasure with the controversial arrest of school teacher Dennis Henderson by Officer Jonathan Gromek on June 26.


Speaking to a group of Homewood community leaders, Cdmr. O'Connor said, "I was very, very unhappy about the arrest of Mr. Henderson, the teacher. It should have been handled a different way."


O'Connor made the comment after Rep. Ed Gainey expressed concern about what he called the "zeal" of newer officers who are assigned to Zone 5.


It was unusual for O'Connor to comment publicly on the case, because it is still the subject of an internal investigation.


But the meeting had already taken an unexpected turn very early on, when Councilman Ricky V. Burgess said that the top leadership of the Pittsburgh Police of Bureau has refused to embrace "preventative, deterrent approaches" to law enforcement practices that could make the Bureau more effective - and Cmdr. O'Connor agreed with him.


"They have absolutely refused to do it," Councilman Burgess continued. "Even though I brought the programs to them, even though they know it works, even though it works in other cities, their own arrongance refused to let them do it.


"And so they wouldn't do the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime. They wouldn't do deterrent approaches...They don't want to do the ShotSpotters. They don't want to put the cameras up.


"Because what they want to do is saturate, because that's what in their mindset. Their mindset is to bring tanks down to Homewood Avenue and saturate the community.


"Thats what they want to do. And anything that's not that - they don't want to do it."


Again, Cmdr. O'Connor seconded him.


"I'm in big trouble here, but I'm gonna support what the Councilman said." Cmdr. O'Connor said. "He hits the nail right on the head."


When asked, "What can we do?," O'Connor suggested that attendees (Rashad Byrdsong, Community Empowerment Association;  Brittee Clay and Denise Jones, Jones Printing; Sean Finch, Homewood Renaissance Association; Jerome Jackson, Operation Better Block; Derrick Lopez, Homewood Children's Village; Rev. Rodney A. Lyde, Baptist Temple Church; George Moses, Bethany Baptist Church; and Dianne Swan, Rosedale Block Cluster)  - approach presumptive mayor Bill Peduto to request changes, beginning with providing Zone 5 with more resource: specifically, with more cameras, with ShotSpotters, and with more officers.


"I've been advocating for three years for more resources." he said. "We're the last place in the city to get cameras...They give me one and they put it at Penn and Highland. I don't need to see who's eating pizza at Capri, or who's going to the church. Where we need them is out where the shots are being fired."


Referring again to ShotSpooters ("a brilliant idea"), he reiterated, "I was told, don't talk to them no more. They're hung up on this contract."


(And that's when he turned to me, and said, "You gonna write this down?"


"Yes, sir," I replied. Cause, you know, writing's what I do..)


"Because I'm vocal and I get into fights with them, they were trying to oust me about a month ago," he said. "Because of community support it didn't happen. But I will not shut up and I will not stop advocating for stuff out here."


Regarding officers, he noted that In 2012, his zone had 43 percent of the homicides in the City. So far this year, that number is up to 50 percent.


"I don't have 50 percent of the resources. I'm not gonna get 'em," he said. "But I should be able to get a few more."


To that, Rep. Gainey expressed a concern, even while agreeing with the need for more officers: "My only issue is...it seems like all the rookies hit Zone 5."


"I don't want a whole bunch of rookies," he said. "I need the wisdom of the police department to handle the cancer that's out here right now."


O'Connor pointed out that under the Bureau's contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, "They just cannot transfer officers around."


And that is when he mentioned the Henderson case, in acknowledgment of Rep. Gainey's point.

There's more to tell, but we'll stop here for now. Stay tuned.


What do you think of Councilman Burgess' comments about the "mindset" of the Bureau of Police leadership?  Do you think that if/when Bill Peduto becomes mayor, he should provide Cmdr. O'Connor with more cameras, ShotSpotters, and more officers? Do you think that Mayor Ravenstahl should make an effort to provide them before leaving office?

PREVIOUS: Zone 5 Commander breaks silence


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Reply Maryellen Deckard
9:48 AM on August 26, 2013 
I do not think they should be using any more aggressive policing tactics on one side of Penn Avenue that would be unacceptable on the other side of Penn Avenue. Consider the Jordan Miles case. Does anyone think for a moment that these unmarked jump out police would be tolerated jumping out on someone's kid, some CAPA student, in Squirrel Hill? No? Then there should not be these abusers in Homewood.

Now, if Squirrel Hill suddenly had the crime rate of Homewood, do you think they would get cameras wherever they wanted them? That's your answer. Pittsburgh City Council voted for the cameras. The Mayor did not veto the vote. Citizens of Homewood, do you want cameras?
That's the question. If the police do not provide them, then march on the Mayor and demand that whoever decided that the votes of Council don't matter should be fired.
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