CARRICK (KDKA) — Kirk Avenue is a quiet little street in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carrick, but wasn’t that way just a year ago.
“Drugs coming in daily, people, cars coming in and out,” said Donna Williams with the Kirk Avenue Block Watch. “And we’d just taken enough of it.”
A drug house at the end of the street motivated Williams to go door-to-door to form a block watch, enlisting everyone on Kirk Avenue, with the exception of the drug dealers themselves.
The information they supplied police put an already active investigation over the top. And within days the SWAT team arrived.
“It led to a rather large arrest of 43 people,” said Pittsburgh Block Watch Coordinator Elizabeth Style, “so it’s that additional eyes and ears that additional piece to the puzzle.”
The Kirk Avenue Block Watch is one of more than a hundred in the city — but it may not fit the stereotype you have in mind. They don’t go on patrol, they’re not confrontational, and they don’t make arrests.
“You don’t take that power in your own hands,” Williams said, “911 and 311 is there to help you.”
Rather than a vigilante group, the block watch organizers say this is a way to bring the community together. Before the watch, Williams says the people on Kirk Avenue were largely strangers from one another. Now in addition to safety meetings, the watch hosts block parties
“It’s getting to know your neighbors again,” she said. “Back before everybody stayed inside. Now you’re getting to know your neighbors.”
“It’s not to replace or supplement the police,” Police and Safety Director Mike Huss said. “It’s about taking ownership of the area that you live.”
The block watch organizers work closely with Huss, who says they’re invaluable to law enforcement.
“We need the community to be involved,” Huss said. “Police need to know when a crime occurs and we need that relationship with the community.”
The city has encouraged the formation of block watches with the help of the Block Watch Kit, on how to organize one and run one. The city also supplies signs which the neighbors post in their windows as a deterrent to criminals.
The signs in the window say, “We’re not going to take it anymore. We’re taking back our block. You are not welcome here,” according to Williams.
But if there is trouble, the block watch calls the police.
And that much is clear. While the block watch residents help the police, they realize they are not the police and they leave law enforcement to officials.