Photo by Lynne Deliman
A 22-year-old female died after a shooting on Dec. 5 next to the True Diamonds in Stowe.
By Jamie Wiggan
Reflecting on several weeks of ramped up violence in the Stowe Township community, Commissioner’s President Robin Parilla believes the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is a contributing factor.
“History tells me anything coming toward the holiday…crime goes up because everybody’s stressed out,’ he said. “With this coronavirus on top, everybody’s got such a short fuse.”
During a span of two weeks over late November and early December, the Allegheny County police department responded to four calls for assistance investigating shootings and another for a sexual assault in Stowe. One of those incidents resulted in a fatality police believe to have been an unintended target.
“This is something I thought we were getting under control, but it’s going the wrong way again,” Parilla said.
Nationwide, the link between violent crime and the onset of the pandemic is murky.
A preliminary FBI report on crime reported between January and June in 2020, found violent crime for that period had dropped from rates reported the previous year.
Subsequent FBI data is not yet available, however other sources, including a study by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (CCJ), suggest violent crime soared in the summer and stayed high throughout fall and winter months.
In Allegheny County, homicides are on course to exceed last year’s total by nearly 20% and to wind up higher than totals for each consecutive year going back to 2015.
But whether the jump can be attributed to the coronavirus is harder to prove.
“I wish I had that crystal ball” where I could see exactly what’s going on, Parilla said. “[But] if I was a gambler I’d bet high odds it’s because of Covid.”
The psychological impacts of social distancing have been well-documented, statistically and anecdotally.
A tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that by July 2020, 53% of responding adults felt their mental health had been negatively impacted by worry or stress resulting from the coronavirus.
Their reasons ranged from financial concerns to the social impacts of forced isolation.
Although mental health issues don’t typically predispose people to violent acts, mental health issues are often taken into account as a contributing factor to violent crimes.
CCJ’s national report suggests community-based policing techniques that help prevent crime have also been hampered by restrictions.
“The ability of the police to prevent and investigate crimes is greatly diminished by social distancing requirements,” the report states.
Pointing to another prong of the Covid-effect, the CCJ report also highlights the toll social distancing has taken on anti-violence outreach programs, which often coordinate with local law enforcement as part of community-wide efforts to bring down crime.
The City of Pittsburgh recently launched one such program in 2019 called Stop the Violence, with the city council ramping up programming in its recently passed 2021 budget.
Interested in helping facilitate similar initiatives in surrounding municipalities, program coordinator Jay Gilmer recently reached out to McKees Rocks Councilmembers Liz Delgado and Sarah Harvey to explore establishing one for the combined Stowe and Mckees Rocks community.
Stowe Commissioners Dave Rugh and Kelly Cropper-Hall were brought into the first exploratory discussion, which also included the police chiefs from both municipalities.
Rugh said he’s in favor of any means available to bring down crime in the region.
“The cops are out there, they’re on the streets, they’re doing the best they can,” Rugh said. “If there are other assets we have to bring in, like the county, that’s what we have to do.”
Stowe Police Chief Matt Preininger did not respond to requests for comment on this story.