South Fayette police aim to bolster investigative efforts
It can be disheartening for victims when they report a crime to the police, only for it never to be solved.
The reality is that the majority of crimes reported to the police will go unsolved, South Fayette police Chief John Phoennik said, and the township’s rate of 10-12 percent is lower than the national standard in the United States of about 20 percent.
“I want to improve that,” he said.
Nearly 40 cases in South Fayette from May through July currently remain unsolved. To solve more cases, South Fayette police plan to assign a full-time investigator and increase the number of security cameras in the township.
The department will interview current officers with interest and start the assignment in January 2018.
Investigations take a lot of time, Phoennik said, and it’s difficult for officers to balance investigations with their other patrol duties. Most police stations of South Fayette’s size – 16 officers – have at least one investigator, Phoennik said, naming Cecil, which has one, and Upper St. Clair, which has three or four.
“Some of these investigations get in depth and they take time and phone calls,” Phoennik said. “If you’re trying to do an investigation and you keep getting called out for different calls, you can’t get it done. You have to be able to focus on different things and not have to run out for other calls.”
Phoennik, who became the police chief in August 2014, said the department has had an investigative officer in the past, but in recent years it decided to focus its resources elsewhere.
“It comes down to personnel and manpower,” he said. “The road, patrolling and being seen in neighborhoods and keeping residents safe is the No. 1 priority of our job.”
Each officer will continue to follow through with investigations, while the investigator will focus all of his or her time on investigations.
“The fact that we’ll have a person that is designated to look more in depth at the crimes in open cases that would make anybody happy that we have someone dedicated to that,” Phoennik said.
Another measure South Fayette has taken to solve more crimes is putting security cameras throughout the township. Right now, there are 37 cameras at various intersections, township parks and at the municipal buildings, 14 of which were added in the spring. Phoennik said he wants to add at least seven more in 2018.
The department started implementing security cameras about two years ago, and it has already seen it help solve open investigations.
“I think it enhances investigations,” Phoennik said. “We’ve closed probably 15 or 20 cases just based on the cameras that we may have never been able to close.”
The cameras are not for traffic enforcement, but rather to assist in crime investigations and vehicle accidents at those areas. For example, Phoennik said a camera assisted in an armed robbery in Bridgeville in June. While the cameras are helpful, Phoennik said the officers investigating, and the soon-to-be full-time investigator, are still the best crime-solvers.
“It doesn’t replace the officer out there on foot knocking on doors, shaking bushes and pounding the pavement,” he said. “It’s just another tool that enhances things that we can investigate things that we would have never been able to solve, we’ve been able to solve them through that system.”