Diana Gray, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development official, visited Pittsburgh’s East Hills neighborhood two years ago and asked a boy, 8, what he wanted to be when he grew up, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette .Doctor? Firefighter? Police officer? “I can be a drug lookout,” he said. “That’s illegal,” she said. “Aren’t you afraid of going to jail?” “Everyone I know has been in jail,” the boy said.
A 2005 gang-related killing at a playground started a revolution of sorts. A model $85 million effort coordinated by HUD, the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, city police, and two private developers has been steadily improving life for this neighborhood, where 90 percent of the households are headed by single black women. The East Hills Area Restoration Initiative has quietly renovated housing, cleaned out drug dealers, and provided some job and educational opportunities. Crime has declined due in large part to an effort by Victory Security, a private force whose officers are being trained by two ATF agents and the Pittsburgh police. The East Hills Intervention Team also includes probation officers, among them Ted Johnson, head of U.S. Probation and Pre-Trial Services, who has a personal stake in the future of East Hills in part because he lives nearby in Penn Hills.