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Pittsburgh Police Zone Five Working To Improve Community Relations

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) --- Tearing down walls and building bridges between police and the community, that's the motto of new initiatives for Pittsburgh Police Bureau zone five.

It's a different kind of policing.

Officers are now squaring off against a community team at the Homewood YMCA, they're reading to children at the Homewood Carnegie Library.

Unusual activity for law enforcement, but after years of badly strained police-community relations -- these officers are trying to break down walls.

"We have tendency especially after all the problems we've had to see each other as caricatures of each other rather than as people and these kinds of activities allow us to see each other as people," commander Jason Lando says.

Lando is the commander of Zone 5 -- once known as the Fighting 5th -- the toughest police precinct in the city. But after years of community distrust culminating in the controversial arrest of student Jordan Miles -- Lando has tried to set a new tone.

"It's literally about winning people over one person at a time. You do that by treating people with respect, checking up with the guy on the corner, letting people know you care," Lando says.

These days, a regular detachment of officers walk beats -- getting to know people on a first name basis -- a far cry from just a few years ago when officers rarely got out their cars -- except at crime scenes.

"We get sight of our officers. Not just in patrol cars but walking beats, riding bikes," said Zinna Scott of Homewood.

"More people are feeling comfortable with the police, communicating with the police, they're getting out of their vehicles talking. No more supervising the community they're getting to become part of the community," said Dante Works, also of Homewood.

In just the past three years citizen complaints against officers have dropped from 24 in 2014 to just 15 last year -- crime has seen declines in most categories and now Lando says there's a freer flow of information between officers and citizens -- added in part by his weekly email blasts detailing all incidents in the zone.

The goal is to establish a new bedrock of trust that will allow citizens and police to work together in making their neighborhoods safe.

"Because when you have that trust in the community. They give you tips, they cooperate. They know that when you come to their house you have their best interests at heart," Lando says.

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