PG NewsPG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions


Headlines by E-mail

Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health & Science Magazine Forum

Program targets gun offenders to sway them from life of crime

Saturday, March 03, 2001

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Two weeks ago, a host of policemen, probation officers, prosecutors and community leaders gathered in the intimidating environs of a federal courtroom and spoke to 19 young men with records for shooting at people or selling dope.

Their message: If you don't want to end up here in the future, put down the guns and consider straightening out your life.

"We said to them, 'OK, you see what's going to happen,' " said William Curtis, pastor of the Mount Ararat Baptist Church in East Liberty. " 'Now let's look at some alternatives. We want you to get back into the community and make a contribution.' "

Two of those men later showed up at Curtis' church, asking about how to get a job.

A small triumph, maybe, but it represents what U.S. Attorney Harry Litman calls the "stick and the carrot" approach to ending gun violence in Pittsburgh as part of Operation TARGET, a federal, state and local program to get illegal guns off the street.

The Feb. 15 meeting was the first in a series of direct appeals to gun offenders, most of whom Curtis and others said are young, black and without many prospects.

Litman and his cohorts in law enforcement administer the stick, threatening stiff sentences in federal prisons far from home for any of the men caught carrying a gun.

Religious leaders such as Curtis and Richard Garland, director of Youthworks, offer the carrot, trying to get them to become decent citizens instead of street thugs.

Similar programs are in place in North Carolina, Indianapolis, Boston and elsewhere.

It's hard to measure the success of these concentrated efforts statistically, although homicides and shootings are down across the United States. Litman said cities with deterrent programs like the one here have seen homicide rates drop 25 percent to 50 percent.

William Mullen, who heads the investigations branch of the Pittsburgh police, said murders have dropped in the city in recent years, from 49 in 1999 to 41 last year. Shootings have dropped, too, and Mullen attributes part of the decline to Operation Target.

At their most basic level, the courthouse conferences are supposed to convince potential shooters to stop shooting, and the most objective way to chart progress is by keeping track of raw numbers.

"That's definitely the bottom line," said Litman. "We want fewer shootings on the street. We want to change behavior."

But the figures will tell only part of the story.

Curtis said it wasn't lost on him that all but one of the men at the meeting in U.S. District Judge Donald Ziegler's cavernous courtroom were black. Combating gun violence, he said, takes more than threats of imprisonment, but a focus on improving the quality of the blighted communities the young men call home.

To that end, he said he is gratified to be involved with the Target program because the multilevel approach shows the black community that "law enforcement is not just about locking up your sons and daughters."

Errika Fearbry Jones, youth policy manager for Mayor Tom Murphy, said one of the best ways to monitor the effectiveness of the program will be to see how many young men pursue job training and go to work, or get the drug counseling and other services they need.

She said several of the offenders who attended last month's session seemed to come away impressed.

"A couple of guys walked up to me outside the building and said, 'Man, they're really serious, aren't they?' " she said. "I said, 'Yeah.' I think it really did have an impact on them."

bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy