Matt's Downtown Pittsburgh Crime Prevention Plan
The status-quo has not worked for Downtown Pittsburgh. It is time for fresh ideas. It is time for a change. See below for Matt's remarks on how we are going to reform the criminal justice system and finally address Downtown crime.
Downtown Pittsburgh Crime Prevention Plan
My name is Matt Dugan and I’m the Democratic Candidate for District Attorney. I’ve spent the last 14 months traveling Allegheny County, talking with voters about the much-needed reform we need and deserve in our justice system. I spent 16 years serving in the Public Defender’s Office and I witnessed every day the failures of current system. I’ve been unapologetic about the need to change our approach to public safety in our county.
A consistent concern I’ve heard from voters - residents from all parts of the county – are the growing problems in downtown Pittsburgh. For over 3 years, we’ve seen the effects of a post-pandemic city setting. It is undeniable that we’ve had an increase in homelessness, an increase in the number of high-need individuals on the streets, and an increase in criminal activity. These factors have led to the growing concerns downtown Pittsburgh is no longer the city it once was.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Mayor’s office, the City Police, and local business and union leaders in the downtown area. It’s clear from my discussions with these folks that the downtown strategy to combat rising crime is missing one critical element: leadership from the District Attorney’s Office. Which is why I’m proud to announce this morning, our Public Safety Plan for downtown Pittsburgh.
To begin, any strategy centered around increasing public safety and enforcing laws must be led by the County’s chief law enforcement officer – the District Attorney. Which is why on day one, our administration will be prepared to lead these efforts. These efforts, however, will require stakeholder buy-in – specifically a strong partnership with the next President Judge of Allegheny County.
As District Attorney, it’s important to recognize that downtown Pittsburgh is unique to this region. It’s vitally important that we, as leaders, provide a safe and clean downtown area so that our existing businesses can thrive, our efforts to attract new businesses can be successful, and that our downtown residents and visitors feel safe and protected. Downtown Pittsburgh is an economic driver not just for the city and the county, but for our surrounding counties as well. Its safety cannot be jeopardized.
As District Attorney, I’ll be working with Court Administration and the next President Judge to create a Magisterial District Judge office specific to downtown Pittsburgh. As it stands now, all criminal incidents that occur within our city limits are adjudicated in Pittsburgh Municipal Court. That leads to a rotating group of City MDJ’s arraigning defendants, presiding over preliminary hearings, and approving settlements of cases that begin in the downtown area. We need a system that provides consistency in decision-making and one that lends itself to a more intimate knowledge of the defendants in criminal cases, and more accountability to the residents and business owners of downtown Pittsburgh.
In summary, we’ll be advocating for a single courtroom and a single Magisterial District Judge to preside over cases charged in downtown Pittsburgh.
Additionally, as District Attorney, I’ll assign a team of Assistant District Attorneys to downtown Pittsburgh. This team will work with the City of Pittsburgh Police and be immediately available to assist with investigations, charging decisions, and to serve as a resource and partner in any other capacity. This team will be available 24 hours a day to assist not only our partners in law enforcement, but business owners, residents and visitors.
As District Attorney, my office will take the lead on the enforcement of criminal violations. As I stated earlier, downtown Pittsburgh is unique to this region. That does not mean, however, that enforcement of laws or standards of conduct should be different. I live in Moon Township. We don’t want open-air drug transactions in Moon Township just as we don’t want them in Fox Chapel, Wilkinsburg, Penn Hills, or the Mon Valley. Outlying townships and boroughs don’t want people injecting heroin in broad daylight on the streets. If those criminal acts are not tolerated and prosecuted in other parts of the county, the city of Pittsburgh should be no different. As such, our team of attorneys along with the City of Pittsburgh Police will target:
Open-air drug transactions
Open-air use of needle-injected narcotics
Threatening and assaultive behavior
All violent crime
Lastly, the District Attorney’s Office will staff preliminary arraignments at Pittsburgh Municipal Court. The preliminary arraignment is a crucial stage where the District Attorney’s responsibility for prosecuting a case begins. Prior to the arraignment, an assistant District Attorney will have the ability to review the affidavit of probable cause, assess the appropriateness of the charging decisions, and advocate for certain bail conditions.
And finally, as part of what will be the District Attorney’s county-wide community engagement program, the city of Pittsburgh will have its own community engagement liaison. Residents, visitors, and business owners will have direct access to this liaison in order to communicate concerns and ask questions in real time. We’ll also be scheduling quarterly public meetings to discuss these strategies where we’ll welcome feedback and suggestions.
It's time the District Attorney’s Office assumes a leadership position in downtown Pittsburgh. It’s time we have a District Attorney who accepts the responsibility of tackling public safety in downtown Pittsburgh. Law enforcement begins with the DA’s office. And come January, we look forward to leading that effort – as we work beside Mayor Gainey, Sara Innamorato, the Chief of Police, and the Courts.
This campaign is built on safety-minded reform. A central court to address downtown issues, a dedicated team of attorneys who will work with law enforcement, residents, and business owners in real time, and a community engagement schedule that allows timely updates on strategies and concerns, and District Attorney’s Office that accepts its leadership responsibilities. Those are the safety minded reforms Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh so desperately need.
Speech originally presented on 9/22/23 in Market Square, Downtown Pittsburgh