Fix tha’ Police: Reform as a long-term priority

We ask members of the Pittsburgh Bureau of the Police to do a lot of hard and dangerous things, and we often commend them for how they do it.

Still, other frictions continue to heighten and coalesce, bringing demands for better police management.

Last week, we heard confirmations that the Police have flatly refused to implement the PIRC, the City’s program to address group-related homicide which is based on a data-gathering and community engagement strategy shown to produce notable effect in other cities.

Councilman Ricky Burgess described the intensity with which the community he represents and the Police force mistrust each other, and how that clash leads to “heavy handed policing”. He pled for a new focus from the Bureau on collaboration, data metrics and the attainment of legitimacy as a priority.

The City’s next Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar agreed enthusiastically with Burgess’ entire assessment, although he suggested that bad seeds on the force policing those communities spoil the requisite public confidence. And he said staff has already been reassigned to give the PIRC “a hard look”.

The Police Bureau, through its new spokeswoman, reported that its present Acting Chief believes the PIRC model to be “not implementable” in Pittsburgh — but also that Mayor Peduto believes that some “past decisions” may be revisited. They are all probably referencing the police union contract, and collective bargaining.

Speaking of the Fraternal Order of Police, its attorney has begun to tell the media that further video footage and photographs justify one officer’s decisions during what became a widely-publicized violent confrontation.

His actual release of one new photo lends credence to the FOP’s contention that the woman charged in fact held the officer’s forearm, although the musculature of her fingers in said photograph demonstrates it may not have been an active or “controlling” grip. An attorney for the woman released several photos urging caution in interpretations.

The FOP contends that widely accepted Police training and guidelines substantiate how officers can and ought counter the effects of any physical resistance upon their duties by asserting force “one level” higher than that which they are confronting.

In this incident, it looks as though the officer inserted himself between an unruly actor and the target of her ire, encountered some physical resistance, separated the actor from a crowd, gathered himself and the actor, and then coolly and with a better view for onlookers executed an effective demonstration of what “one level higher” can mean as deterrence.

The city’s Office of Municipal Investigations is still processing its findings, or else City leadership is still weighing what to do with them.

In another recent episode, two on-duty officers were surreptitiously discovered to be eating lunch outside of their Command Zones, and without reporting in. They were issued oral reprimands which will linger a year in their records.

The significance of that snafu is two-fold. First:  how are there still no 24-hour sit-down restaurants amidst Downtown, the Strip District, the Greater Hill and Greater Lawrenceville? Next:  since when does the City have a range of police disciplinary measures to choose from in between attempting to fire officers and pinning commendations to their chests extra-hard?

Valid perceptions of police presumption, aggression and lax standards have interacted with evidence of corruption at some levels to produce the revelation of a crisis and a vacuum of necessary leadership. Pittsburgh’s next Chief of Police is anticipated to be on the scene by Autumn.

Part 1 of 2…

City Land Bank’s Interim board grappling w/ issues

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 2.44.31 PMThe Interim board of the City of Pittsburgh’s new Land Bank held their fourth meeting on Thursday July 17.

For the fourth occasion, despite the tidal waves of attention land banking merited during debate, only three or four spectators were in attendance. Even most officials in City Hall seemed unaware of the off-peak deliberations in Council chambers.

The Interim board is charged with devising proposed policies and procedures for the City Land Bank, and submitting them to Council for approval.

Each Council member appointed one member to that board, resulting in the following cast of characters: Continue reading

Tom Corbett: Tortoise-like candidacy Hard to Watch

In this election for Governor, Democratic challenger Tom Wolf bounded out to as huge an early lead as imaginable. If a Tortoise and the Hare fable is what it takes to make this look like a “race” against incumbent Republican Tom Corbett, we had better use it.

Otherwise, it’s all too grim and terrible.

Basic education services under Tom Corbett have been slashed with predictable sharpness, all without any apparent plan to address the losses.

The budget has not recovered in Pennsylvania anywhere near to the extent that it has in other states.

And the Governor thinks keeping us away from Medicaid will cure what ails us.

He loves to imply Continue reading

Anti-Fitz Activists gain Traction with Ethics angle

There seems to be little point in arguing over fracking, let alone blogging about it.

As the Comet watched Allegheny County Council’s vote to approve natural gas drilling at Deer Lakes Park, cultural differences seemed front and center. This week we learned about how had it further confirmed that psychological and physiological factors determine political beliefs more than either facts or commentary. And as though to drive that point home, we discovered the art of rolling coal.

If half of us are confident in our beliefs that Continue reading

Diversity in the City Workforce: A Thorny Question

Naturally enough, some Pittsburghers have been trying to determine whether or not the new mayor’s otherwise successful government diversity agenda has been inclusive of openly LGBTQ persons — and with little success.

Given both the candidate and the administration’s pride in backing LGBTQ rights and all the crowing about government diversity, it’s a fair question.

It’s also a darn tricky one.

The first difficulty is in the timing of when to ask it and to expect a useful answer. When is the new administration fully assembled enough to do so? That’s been the precise trouble in gauging whether or not there has yet been enough progress in the police bureau. In that instance Continue reading

Developing, Budgeting and Liaising: ‘DAT SYNC (pt. 3 Finale) -> Moving Onward!

This huge news made a huge splash!

A Pittsburgh police officer has been selected to be a liaison to the public safety director, a temporary position for which there is not yet a job description.

Officer Michelle Auge, 38, began her first day in the position working at the bureau’s North Side headquarters. (P-G, Liz Navratil)

Call me crazy; it seems like liaising for the Public Safety Director, the Police Bureau and the community is a pretty thorough job description. Also, a daunting one.

If portfolio details and performance standards do not emerge after a while, maybe we should stroke our chins. In the meanwhile, people seem to like the employee and think the move makes sense.

Why not try to get in sync with what’s necessary, when it’s a priority? It is often demonstrated how this maneuver can reap real dividends and open new opportunities.

MORAL OF THE TRILOGY: Does this mean we should relax and say everything in Pittsburghtown is okay? No, but when we experience those healthy anxieties, we should worry about thornier, more fundamental issues like the Land Banking, or managing cultural shifts, or the state of our transit vision.

Let us all investigate such matters. Pittsburgh deserves we prioritize efficiency. And so occasionally, that means rowing with common purpose.

Go US!