Raymond Arke | Editor-in-Chief
Last week, Pittsburgh took steps to become a safer city. Responding, in part, to the recent deaths of University of Pittsburgh student, Alina Sheykhet, and Duquesne University student, Dakota Jones, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office joined forces with UPMC and University of Pittsburgh to install 60 security cameras throughout Oakland.
The new security equipment consists of 54 overview cameras and six for license plate recognition, according to CBS Pittsburgh.
Stephen A. Zappala, Jr., district attorney for Allegheny County, said this kind of equipment is important.
“We used virtual surveillance extensively these last few years,” he said.
In the South Side, Zappala explained that investments in more cameras have lowered crime rates almost 40 percent. One example he described is an ongoing case of a man that is currently accused of stalking women in the South Side. Because of the cameras, “we were able to follow him for seven blocks,” Zappala said.
The “horrific” death of Sheykhet occured in an area of Oakland that needs the type of crime reduction South Side has experienced, Zappala said.
“Analysts told me roughly 70 percent of all police calls were from that area [of Oakland],” Zappala said. The area he cited consists of Forbes Ave to the Boulevard of the Allies and Magee St. to Atwood St.
“A lot of that housing is for college kids,” he said. “We want to invest in a virtually gated community there. It’s a deterrent to crime.”
Zappala said other neighborhoods like Monroeville and the Strip District have also seen benefits of less crime from the installation of cameras.
Sheykhet was killed last year in her apartment in Oakland. Police were able to follow Matthew Darby, the suspect, through video surveillance on Duquesne’s campus and in Oakland. Darby’s case is pending trial.
James, who was pursuing a master’s degree in business from Duquesne, disappeared from Downtown Pittsburgh in January 2017. James’ body was found in the Ohio River in March 2017. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner found the cause of death to be drowning; however, the cause has been disputed by his family. Surveillance video in Downtown Pittsburgh played a major role in documenting some of James’ last movements. The James’ family had also petitioned for increased video coverage throughout the city.
Robert Del Greco Jr., attorney for the Sheykhet family, said the family supports the initiative to expand the presence of cameras in the city.
“The Sheykhet family applauds District Attorney Zappala’s initiatives and UPMC for its assistance to promote crime prevention, detection and deterrence especially as it relates to Pitt students residing in off-campus housing,” he said at a press conference on Aug. 28.
Del Greco said that the family is “delighted” with the increased security.
“Any improvement in security measures spawned by Alina Sheykhet’s memory is a welcomed event,” Del Greco said.
Pamela James, through The Dakota James Foundation, said in a statement to The Duke that the foundation is “honored” to work on the project.
“When our son, Dakota, went missing in Pittsburgh we discovered there were not enough working cameras in the area to help answer our questions,” she said. “We see the cameras as a cost-effective way to possibly provide these answers and a way to prevent future criminal incidents by providing another form of safety to those who travel this area.”
James hopes that more cameras will continue to be added.
“We will continue to work towards future camera projects in local communities as well as high pedestrian traffic city bridges. We encourage those who may be interested in our mission or request our assistance to contact us at dakotajamesfoundation.com,” the statement read.