02/07/2008

Pa. LEOs seek to reduce gun violence

By Moriah Balingit
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Standing before a display of confiscated weaponry, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. announced at a news conference yesterday that efforts to reduce gun violence in Homewood are making progress.

The 30 or so guns on display — including 2-foot-long assault rifles and several pistols — were just a sample of those confiscated from abandoned homes on Inwood Street and Sweeney Place in Homewood in the last two years by the Pittsburgh Police Department and a task force assembled by the district attorney's office in May 2006.

Authorities believe the weapons were stolen and hidden there by gang members and others who used or intended to use them in violent crimes.

They are proof, said Mr. Zappala, that the district attorney's Violent Crimes and Firearms Task Force is working.
"These guys are constituted to take back this area block by block," he said.

The multiagency task force works under the direction of the district attorney's office to take violent criminals, drug dealers and guns off the streets in areas beset by violence and criminal activity, including the roughly 10-block area around Sweeney Place and Inwood Street. The task force also assists local police departments that lack adequate resources to deal with spates of violence.

The force includes five Pittsburgh police detectives that are deputized to work outside city limits, four Allegheny County sheriff's officers, two Allegheny County police officers and two investigators from the district attorney's office. It occasionally works in conjunction with federal agencies and the U.S. attorney's office to federally prosecute violent criminals.

Since the task force started, four men have been arrested on illegal drug and gun charges by the task force in connection with crimes committed near Inwood Street. Two are facing federal gun charges.

"This was was federal, state and local law enforcement working together very effectively," said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.

On Tuesday afternoon, the task force descended on Inwood Street in Homewood to sweep about 10 abandoned houses where many of the weapons had been found in the past. All they recovered was ammunition, but Deputy District Attorney Dan Konieczka, who works with the task force, said the meager discovery signifies the task force's success.

"It indicates that [the guns are] not ... in the places where [the criminals] were comfortable hiding their weapons," he said in an interview.

Though Mr. Zappala lauded the force's successes, he said there is still much work to be done. "There are Inwood Streets throughout the city."

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that he would have some of the abandoned properties on Inwood Street demolished to deter future criminal activity.

Copyright 2008 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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