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 converge, 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 twofold. 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.

Please continue to Part 2…

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