East Pittsburgh, PA – East Pittsburgh residents gathered on Monday to express their concerns about the rise in violent crime and the lack of police officers patrolling their neighborhood just eight months after they disbanded the East Pittsburgh Police Department.
The East Pittsburgh Borough Council voted to dissolve the borough’s police department in the wake of the officer-involved shooting death of Antwon Rose.
The council notified the Pennsylvania State Police on Nov. 13, 2018 that they were going to need coverage from that agency as of Nov. 30, 2018, while they worked to come up with a long-term solution, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
When the East Pittsburgh Police Department was disbanded, city officials promised they were in the middle of talks to launch a multi-community police force that would cover their territory, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
However, residents began complaining about the lack of police presence the day after the East Pittsburgh police shut down when there was no obvious state police presence on their streets.
“They’re supposed to be learning the streets and all that,” East Pittsburgh resident Sean Andrejco complained to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That’s why the problem started. It was a young cop who didn’t know what he was doing.”
The dissolution of the police department had been a part of borough council discussions for years, but the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Rose by East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld on June 19, 2018 brought the matter to a head.
The incident kicked off mass protests with accusations of racism because Officer Rosfeld is white, and Rose was black.
Sixty to 80 protesters, some masked, surrounded Officer Rosfeld's home after his identity was released.
After more protests, the officer was charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and he was placed on unpaid leave.
The East Pittsburgh Police Department was then completely dissolved under community pressure, which resulted in Officer Rosfeld losing his job along with other officers.
In March, a jury found former Officer Rosfeld not guilty of all charges stemming from the fatal shooting of Rose after just four hours of deliberations.
But almost five months later, residents of East Pittsburgh have found themselves in a dangerous pickle, having gotten rid of its police force before a local alternative was put in place.
The community has continued to complain about the lack of police presence on their streets and there’s no concrete plan as of yet to solve the problem.
When the Pennsylvania State Police took over police services in the borough, Trooper Melinda Bondarenka explained that on-duty troopers would not be spending their time specifically patrolling East Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Trooper Bondarenka said troopers would continue their usual highway patrol duties in a larger zone that would also include the borough of East Pittsburgh.
“They will be in and out of the borough,” she said.
The trooper explained the state police’s role in East Pittsburgh’s law enforcement, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“We’re required by law that if an area does not have police services, to come in and provide full-time police services,” Trooper Bondarenka explained. “We have no idea how long we’re going to be there. Or if [East Pittsburgh officials] are going to try to negotiate with another department nearby. We’re just there for however long they need us.”
She explained that the state police would ask for mutual aid from a neighboring police department if they were unable to respond to an emergency call for service, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“If we need backup or depending on our call volume and our location, if the trooper is already on something else, we might request a neighboring agency to come in until we get there,” Trooper Bondarenka said. “Just like if we have a crash on the Parkway, and there is another crash, we’ll ask a nearby department to get there, render aid and do whatever needs to be done.”
The group who came together to express their concern about the lack of policing in East Pittsburgh on July 29 found little sympathy outside their community, based on the comments posted to the KDKA Facebook post with the story about the crime problems.
“They drove their own police force out,” Paul Albright commented. “Now they want to complain because it takes longer to have the State Police respond to calls. They should thank God that any police are still willing to come into their Community. After the way they behaved last year.”