Photo Essay: What Seems / What Is: Crime in Wilkinsburg

The declining crime rates in Wilkinsburg, Pa. defy its reputation as a violent and dangerous community, Wilkinsburg Police Chief Ophelia "Cookie" Coleman says. Located along the border of Pittsburgh, the city's violent crime rate fell 74 percent between its 2005 peak and 2014 according to an analysis of the latest available FBI data-- a decline about 2.5 times as drastic as what the United States as a whole experienced during the same time span. Dispatch calls to officers on patrol dwindled, too. In 2014, Wilkinsburg police received 14,840 calls for service, one-third less than in 2005, when Wilkinsburg ranked sixth statewide in the rate for combined violent and property crimes.

A pink sky signals sunset over the main business corridor Wilkinsburg, Pa. on Thursday evening, Aug. 11, 2016. Wilkinsburg's violent crime rate fell 74 percent between its 2005 peak and 2014 according to an analysis of the latest available FBI data-- a decline about 2.5 times as drastic as what the United States as a whole experienced during the same time span. Dispatch calls to officers on patrol dwindled, too. In 2014, Wilkinsburg police received 14,840 calls for service, one-third less than in 2005, when Wilkinsburg ranked sixth statewide in the rate for combined violent and property crimes. The declining rates counter Wilkinsburg's reputation as a violent and dangerous community, Wilkinsburg Police Chief Ophelia "Cookie" Coleman says.
People react along Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg, Pa. at the scene of a mass shooting that left 5 adults and an unborn child dead and three wounded on early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016. Jessica Shelton, pictured bottom left, lost two daughters, one eight-months pregnant, a niece, and one of her sons in the ambush. Another one of her sons was critically wounded. Allegheny County police charged Cheron Lamont “C-Wiz” Shelton, 29, and Robert James “Milhouse” Thomas, 27, in the shooting deaths of siblings Brittany Powell, 27, the host of the gathering; Chanetta Powell, 25, and her unborn son; Jerry Shelton, 35; their cousin, Tina Shelton, 37; and family friend Shada Mahone, 26. None of the deceased Sheltons is related to accused triggerman Cheron Shelton. Except for Brittany — who only weeks before began renting a room in the house — none of the slain victims resided in Wilkinsburg.
Upcoming valedictorian Remy McIntyre, 18, plays it up to the crowd as she shows off her prom dress on the promenade outside of Wilkinsburg High School on Thursday, May 26, 2016 in her neighborhood of Wilkinsburg, Pa. The school's final senior class was deeply affected by the March 2016 mass shooting blocks from the school that claimed the lives of the family members of some students.  During her valedictorian speech at graduation, the last ever for the now shuttered high school, McIntyre spoke on the great losses her class was working to overcome and be inspired by. "Each and every one of us has had our own struggle this year... I’ve buried so many loved ones that I’ve lost count. But you know what? I’ve learned to use grief as an experience," said McIntyre, who continued on to college at Temple University after graduation. "And I’m not saying that I appreciate experiencing grief so many times. But I do appreciate God for putting me through all my challenges. They didn’t destroy me. They only made me so much stronger."
Wilkinsburg Police Chief Ophelia "Cookie" Coleman, 64, sits for a portrait in her office at the city's police station on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. Coleman believes the media reporting about the March 9th backyard mass shooting in Wilkinsburg has reinforced an increasingly untrue image of Wilkinsburg as a dangerous community even though its violent crime rate continues to decline. “These people had no real connections to Wilkinsburg,” said Cole­man of the alleged shooters and intended victim. “They didn't live in Wilkinsburg. Whatever caused these killings, the motive, didn't start in Wilkins­burg.”
People stop along the busway in Wilkinsburg, Pa. as they complete the Pittsburgh Area Pax Chrisiti Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, March 25, 2016. Stops along the Wilkinsburg busway included themes of immigration and trafficking as well as gun violence, as community and church members stopped to honor victims along their route.
Taiwanese immigrant and longtime business owner Louis Ou stands for a portrait in his Asian World grocery business along Penn Ave. in Wilkinsburg, Pa. on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. Ou's business, which weathered the collapse of the steel industry and is now over three decades old, serves the tri-state area with its low prices, delivery, and easy access of the Parkway East. Ou made it though the area's increase in crime in the early 1990s, installing double doors that lock when he presses a button, allowing him to trap shoplifters and armed robbers until the police get there.  Wilkinsburg Police Chief Ophelia Coleman points to Wilkinsburg's easy access to the Parkway East, East Street busway and other major thoroughfares for getaway car drivers in crimes, but predicts that robberies will continue to drop because of increased development along the Penn Ave. corridor.
Eighth grader Robert Fuqua, center, defends the flag in a game of "Capture the Flag" during a joint field day held for Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh Westinghouse students entering grades six through eight on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at North Park in Allison Park, Pa. The field day was one of a series of events meant to build camaraderie between the students at the two schools after fears of gang and neighborhood-related violence arose at the news of Pittsburgh Westinghouse absorbing the student body of rival school Wilkinsburg High due to budget woes. Wilkinsburg Police Sgt. Mike Adams, a detective with more than two decades of experience in Wilkinsburg, says that much of policing is helping residents talk out their disputes before they turn violent.
Stephon Byrd, 19, of Wilkinsburg, and Jody Guy, 59, of Forrest Hills, volunteer to paint a railing across the street from the home where the March 9th shootings took place in Wilkinsburg, Pa. on Saturday, July 16, 2016. The two were part of a crew of people volunteering to beautify the block with Operation Light on Franklin- a partnership between the Wilkinsburg Sanctuary Project, Wilkinsburg Youth Project, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, and the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation. Pastor Janet Hellner-Burris helped to canvas the community to see what they wanted, basing the work around boarding up 12 abandoned houses on the block. "This is a direct response to the March 9th tragedy," said Pastor Hellner-Burris, of Forest Hills. "We thought, let's bless this whole block."
A woman lights candles as people gather Thursday evening March 10, 2016, to mourn in front of the home in Wilkinsburg, Pa. where a mass shooting occurred the previous night. The shooting shook the community, starting an outpouring of organizing around supporting the affected families, working for safer streets, and healing as a neighborhood.
Community men join hands on Wednesday evening, March 15, 2016 as they lead a march down the alley behind the home where eight people were shot the previous week during a cookout Wilkinsburg, Pa. The march, "Call Them Out," was put on by Making Alternative Decisions Effectively Impacting Teens (M.A.D.E.I.T.) and called for an end to violence.
Paul Montie of Braddock looks out over Wilkinsburg from the busway above Penn Ave. on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. Two blocks away, the Wilkinsburg police station monitors high-crime areas by video cameras, which capture video of criminals in the act. That lets officers spend more time on community-oriented policing, forging relationships with the public so that citizens will tip off authorities about budding crimes before they occur. “You have police officers who don't look at it like that. They look at me and say, ‘Chief, I'm not a social worker. I'm not a baby sitter,' ” said Wilkinsburg Police Chief Ophelia "Cookie" Coleman. “But all crime is social. And you're the first line of defense to protect that social order.”
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