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AG Task Force Marks Six-Month Milestone

Shapiro asks for statewide effort to recruit, hire additional police officers

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
February 10, 2022
Posted in: Crime and Police News, McKeesport and Region News

Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert, McKeesport police Chief Adam Alfer and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speak before an event Thursday at the Palisades. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

An intensive, six-month focus on stopping gun and drug trafficking in the McKeesport area has so far led to 71 arrests and the seizures of 46 guns used in crimes, state and local officials announced Thursday.

The partnership between state investigators, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, McKeesport police and other law-enforcement agencies also shows the value of cooperation, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said during a press conference at the Palisades ballroom, Downtown.

“This is hardly the end of the conversation,” Shapiro said. “It is a confirmation that law-enforcement collaboration works, and it is also a call for further action. We need to learn from this model, we need to use it here and in other communities across the commonwealth.”

Brenda Sawyer, regional director of the state Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, McKeesport assistant police Chief Mark Steele, McKeesport police Chief Adam Alfer, McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Shapiro was joined by state Sen. Jim Brewster, McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, McKeesport police Chief Adam Alfer, assistant police Chief Mark Steele, Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert, and Brenda Sawyer, regional director of the state Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control.

“Crime has been an obstacle here in the city of McKeesport,” Cherepko said. “It’s hard to keep residents here, it’s hard to attract new residents and businesses, if people don’t feel safe. We’ve come a long way and without question, we’re moving in the right direction.”

In July 2021, during an event in Kennedy Park, Shapiro announced the creation of a strategic response team, or SRT, focused on stopping the flow of illegal drugs and guns in the Mon-Yough area. The Region V SRT includes McKeesport police, Allegheny County police and district attorney’s office investigators, and federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives.

Since its creation, state officials said Thursday, the SRT has seized $100,000 of heroin, $86,000 of the synthetic painkiller fentanyl, $125,000 in crack coacaine and $47,000 in crystal methamphetamine.

The fentanyl amounts to 57,000 “lethal doses of the drug most responsible for the overdoses we see across the commonwealth, claiming the lives of 14 Pennsylvanians each and every day,” Shapiro said. “As I say all the time, gun trafficking and drug trafficking go hand in hand, and they must be addressed together.”

The SRT model is also being used in Wilkes-Barre and parts of Philadelphia, he said.

State officials said three of the 46 guns confiscated were so-called “ghost guns,” made up of untraceable parts without serial numbers.

Ghost guns, which by their nature are unregulated and unlicensed, are becoming the weapon of choice for criminals, Shapiro said. “The General Assembly needs to close the ghost-gun loophole,” he said.

“There are no quick fixes to the violence we see across the commonwealth, but we know there are concrete steps we can take — like the collaboration here in McKeesport that can make lives better and make neighborhoods safer,” Shapiro said.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks with state Sen. Jim Brewster and McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

He and others also used the event to stress the need for a statewide effort to recruit, hire, train and pay additional police officers. Shapiro, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, called on the state’s General Assembly to fund an effort to recruit at least 1,000 police officers across Pennsylvania.

“It’s a challenge for law enforcement throughout the country,” Schubert said, “and it has been for a number of years now. The people who are applying — the numbers aren’t there like they were before, which creates a challenge not just in staffing, but in terms of diversity.”

The Pittsburgh police bureau loses 26 to 27 officers per year to other agencies. Replacing an officer takes up to 17 months, from the time recruits take the civil-service test until they complete their training, Schubert said.

Alfer agreed. “It’s the same way in McKeesport and across the commonwealth,” he said. “The candidates aren’t there.”

In addition to community patrol officers, Shapiro said, the state should help municipalities fund crisis intervention units and mental health units. “It’s a cost we should be covering and matching funds,” he said.

The SRT’s work in McKeesport will continue, Shapiro said. “There is more to be done, and we’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Jason Togyer is editor of Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published February 10, 2022.

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