State Rep. Jessica Benham hosted a PA House Democratic Policy Committee hearing last week to discuss public safety and nightlife improvements, focusing on the South Side neighborhood. Testimonies were heard from residents, police, city officials, and local business owners in a packed room.

“Those of us who live here understand the challenges we’ve faced, recently and historically,” Rep. Benham stated. “These challenges are not unique to us but are common across Pennsylvania.”

Linda Rosato-Barone, acting deputy chief of Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Police, highlighted the concerning involvement of youth in neighborhood crimes, citing a lack of outlets for them.

“We know solutions require collaboration at every government level,” Ms. Benham remarked. She’s committed to working with stakeholders to enhance public safety.

She mentioned that last month, $7.7 million in state funding was allocated for youth violence prevention in South Pittsburgh.

Allison Harnden, Pittsburgh’s nighttime economy manager, emphasized the need for reform. “Consistent nighttime staff leads to consistent safety practices,” she said, referencing the pandemic’s impact on the workforce.

Local business owners, deeply rooted in the neighborhood, expressed a desire for more police presence and enhanced public safety for sustainable community growth. They noted reduced daytime operations due to the spillover effect of nighttime violence.

Residents shared their concerns too.

“We support our nighttime economy, but we seek a more diverse business community, less reliant on alcohol,” said Barbara Rudiak, President of the South Side Community Council. She urged the state to reconsider liquor license laws favoring applicants over residents.

Rep. Arvind Venkat, D-Allegheny, an emergency physician, shared his experiences treating victims of South Side gun violence. He inquired if the city had considered successful models from other cities. Unfortunately, according to former Zone 3 Police Commander John Fisher, no effective model has been identified, despite looking at cities like Baltimore and New Orleans.

State Rep. Paul Takac, representing parts of Centre County, highlighted that nightlife issues aren’t exclusive to cities. “Smaller municipalities in Pennsylvania face similar challenges,” he said. Takac questioned the fairness of local residents and taxpayers bearing the costs of supporting a nightlife industry, including police and EMS services, and the broader implications on quality of life.