Police contention with City Hall reveals Soft spots

As residents protested “police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation” yesterday on the City’s front porch, upstairs a two-hour debate erupted in Council Chambers over whether to stay the course with Pittsburgh’s group-related homicide crime plan.

Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith of the west end accurately pointed out that the dramatic decrease in the homicide rate promised by proponents never materialized — and if anything is worsening. She also questioned whether City funding of the social service components of the crime strategy are an efficient use of taxpayer resources.

Councilor Dan Gilman, of Peduto’s old eastern district, noted that the mid-year stopgap funding measure was forwarded by a fellow Councilor (Daniel Lavelle of the Hill and Manchester, absent for the discussion) rather than the Mayor’s office — and not seemingly as part of any comprehensive or reformed strategy from new Public Safety leadership.

Councilor Natalia Rudiak, of Carrick, Beechview and points south, focused on reported failures of the initiative, reading aloud:

A team from the University of Cincinnati was brought in to spend a few days with those police officers to map out the city’s violence-prone populations, but the team was sent packing in short order after the police refused to share information, Mr. Kennedy said.

“I set this thing up and wound up with my face planted in the mud,” he said, calling it an unprecedented level of resistance that command-level officers orchestrated.

A 2011 city-commissioned report on PIRC that the University of Pittsburgh conducted also found the police largely ignored the Cincinnati academics’ research, which identified 35 “violent groups” in Pittsburgh and determined 69 percent of the city’s homicides from 2007 to early 2010 were “group-related.”

“The Pittsburgh police department was absolutely the most condescending and aggressively uncooperative agency I have encountered,” he said. “They would not share information; they would not provide information. They would not allow any outsiders in.”

It made no difference that PIRC was a mayoral initiative with hundreds of thousands of dollars in city council funding.

“They actively rejected it and made no secret of that,” Mr. Kennedy said. “My read on this was the police bureau saying, ‘City Hall is trying to tell us what to do, and we’re not going to do it.’ And they won that fight.”

Not long after, Mr. Kennedy gave up.

“I said to them, ‘This is a sham. I’m not going to be involved in it anymore,’ ” he said.  (P-G, Robert Zullo)

Councilor Ricky Burgess of greater Homewood, champion of the city’s PIRC program since its inception, had a host of things to say in response. First, he moved to shrink the amount being requested somewhat, to better tailor it to the timeline Council wished to consider.

Burgess asserted with justification that if the Police Bureau came to Council mid-year requesting a million dollars for new assault rifles, the Council would support that expenditure unanimously and with zero discussion. But when a fraction of that is requested annually for outreach services, all of a sudden Councilors get fired up to scrutinize for efficiency and accountability. Indeed, one PIRC worker invited to the table had earlier become defensive on the point of whether “outreach work is valued.”

Moving along, Burgess confirmed and then excoriated the police non-cooperation with crucial aspects of the PIRC initiative. He attributed this flat refusal to an entrenched “violent mindset” among officers, which is “supported by affluent thinking” by residents who live in “places like Squirrel Hill and Shadyside” who insist the solution to violence is just “put them in jail.”

J.L. Martello, Courier

J.L. Martello, Courier

Then something heretofore unusual happened.

Councilman Gilman said he agreed with most of what Burgess had just outlined about the PIRC, and agreed one need only turn on FoxNews to hear such privileged thinking. But he fired back, “if you want to have that real discussion, let’s look at the history” of local resistance to white supremacy, and at where the people who “helped to start groups like the NAACP,” and “marched arm in arm” with residents of Burgess’s communities had lived, naming some of them from his own district which includes Squirrel Hill and Shadyside.

At the end of the session, Council in committee voted preliminarily to fund the PIRC at a reduced sum, 6-0-2, with Kail-Smith and Rudiak abstaining, the latter to have a personal talk with the Acting Police Chief.


There would be little cause for these regular, divisive fireworks in Council over PIRC if police only implemented the program. Chalk that up as yet another “opportunity cost” of resistance to reform.

Programs like PIRC are supposed to work like a broom and a dustpan:  police officers share data to identify violent networks, officers and social workers call them into group meetings to warn against homicides and offer assistance, the officers make good on promises to crack down on violence above all else, and the social workers reward and encourage reformed behavior.

While the social service aspects are not entirely useless on their own, it does not “scale.” Trying to do the PIRC without broad police data and cooperation is like trying to sweep up a floor with only a dustpan.

If Pittsburgh really wants to reduce violence, it now needs to focus on wherever comes this obstructionism among police brass.

The mayoral trolling campaign we are seeing on the streets among some officers is one indicator of police obstruction to reform.  Some police commanders object that if a complaint comes in on the “311 Mayor’s Response Line,” then it is understandable and acceptable to explain citations by saying, “Peduto made me do this.” That’s just being obtusely coy. How hard is it to write “311,” or to just say, “a resident called in to complain”?

(And for those who think I’m just out to protect Mayor Peduto: I’d never want to defend this creation of a new layer of bureaucracy in Public Safety, if he can’t even defend it.)

The trolling of the Councilor Kraus may be another indication of factional police obstruction. I certainly don’t put our Council President automatically above littering, but the “harassment” citation over top of that raised an eyebrow — and until we learn how the prior police union head came to answer this particular service call, the corner of the lip remains similarly raised in a smirk.

(And for those who think I’m just out to protect Councilor Kraus:  his anti-panhandler ordinance is foolish and cruel for the reasons cited.)

Acting Police Chief Cameron McLay has become famous for touting and conveying progressive, empathetic strategies when it comes to policing. He differs with aspects of our model called “PIRC” only because he favors a different community-policing model, which is why he is meeting those the academics behind PIRC soon, and why comprehensive reform may take longer than we would like.

(And for those who think I’m just out to protect McLay:  why is he still “Acting”? Problems with his real estate agent?)

But again. The source of all this tension and frustration appears to be rooted in legacy factions within the Police Bureau. As our politicians and others peer into the Bureau to root out obstacles to better livability, some of those obstacles will stand out and dig in. That’s a good thing — it’s good to know where problems exist. Stay on top of things.

15 thoughts on “Police contention with City Hall reveals Soft spots

  1. Anonymous

    I was with you until you got to Krauss. A crime is a crime is a crime. Dumping trash on someone’s steps is certainly harassment. What else do you call it when a a man, who happens to be president of the local city council, dumps trash on the steps of a woman? What crimes in the criminal code are appropriate? And then, when she calls the police he accuses the police of bias. When the acting commander investigates and finds no wrong doing Krauss then pushes for an OMI investigation. Seems like he is in fact doing some harassing – of anyone who challenges him. The smile should be directed at the council president for clearing using his power as president for his own benefit. When was the last time he called for an OMI investigation of any other arrest?

    1. bramr101 Post author

      A crime is a crime. An allegation however is just an allegation.

      Seems like this should be easy for OMI to investigate. Is that O’Hara’s usual beat or not? I can certainly imagine a world where Kraus committed those obnoxious deeds and is trying to get them swept under the rug… but I can also imagine a world where a couple of his political enemies set him up and he’s only seeking to expose that. Can’t you?

      UPDATEDIT: Upon reflecting on all that Anon 7:34, I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets settled akin to the Eat n’ Park situation on the officer’s end, and properly before a magistrate on the Councilman’s end, respectively.

      1. Anonymous

        You are not addressing the main point here. This is not merely an “allegation” like “he was alleged to be the one who broke into the house.” People saw Krauss dump trash on his neighbors steps and he even admitted it. His claim that he was simply moving trash is laughable, but not as laughable as your attempt to cover for him. This case is pretty clear cut. Whether or not the officer had a motive is irrelevant to the fact that Krauss committed the act and is now using his position of power to punish the officer and deflect attention. Quite heinous actually.

  2. Anonymous

    The more I listened to the Community Policing Roundtable on WESA, the more I wished that Peduto and McLay had been spectators, listening to Sheldon Williams and Brandi Fisher talk about the issues facing the community and the Bureau.

    If I have to listen to Bill Peduto tell the anecdote about the press of his uncle’s pants being able to cut a piece of paper one more time, I might entirely lose faith in his ability to understand the scope of this situation. It was particularly galling to hear this, again, right after a community member uncorked one of the most pithy depictions of police malfeasance that I can remember hearing in some time. I just couldn’t believe my ears…that was just the wrong time to begin that sort of self-serving mewling.

    McLay may end up doing great things here in Pittsburgh…but now, he needs to learn everything he can about the current state of affairs at the Bureau and in the community. Sheldon Williams, and others with first-hand knowledge, can definitely help him with this, if he is inclined to listen to them, instead of the bilge that is coming out of Grant Street on the topic.

    It’s not easy to take in the whole picture when it comes to community policing in our city…but it sucks to hear the leaders remove all doubt as to their distance from the street-level issues, as I feel they did that night.

    This cannot be couched as some easy-fix scenario. The only way things will change with this Bureau is if they are changed brick by brick. I don’t need to the mayor and his folks to simply scan their twitter feeds to get the latest from the nation at large and then retweet it for my supposed benefit. I, like many others, already read that stuff, thank you. I need them to make a personal connection to those living in our community, with the police, with the issues we face today, and to begin addressing them.

    Spare me the “arm-in-arm” rhetoric, and get busy working to understand how we’re going to turn this around.

    1. bramr101 Post author

      Is it your belief that Peduto and McLay are not connected to “street-level issues,” or not trying to be? I don’t quite understand your frustration here. Police-community relations are a red-hot topic in Pittsburgh right now, so of course journalists are constantly shoving microphones into their faces, asking them the same questions over and over, and expecting them to address it on all the platforms on which they are accessible. That’s inevitably going to result in a lot of “talk” and “rhetoric” and repetition, and a lot of it geared to be reassuring, which yes can become tiresome for those very deeply engaged. BUT if you’re saying that Peduto or McLay are not actually doing the legwork too, or don’t know what they’re talking about, then that’s a separate criticism… for which there would be evidence. Let’s hear it?

  3. Anonymous

    Peduto seems to really believe that a lack of pride and professionalism is the root cause for community/police division. I think many officers have become disaffected because they actually have too much professionalism and pride, and it is nearly impossible to align those with how the Bureau has been led in recent years. I believe that it would go a long way towards healing wounds if this new leadership actually listened more to the people who have been putting their lives on the line for this city year after year. It seems like everyone is getting a say except the members of the force themselves. Swooping in and focusing initially on their uniforms seems like an insult…how about determining what their daily obstacles and barriers are, and seeking to line those up and knock them down? Are there some bad apples on the force? Of course there are, but there are also a great many officers who do an excellent job despite a bewildering array of hurdles. Again, I know this is not easy…but I guess I’d feel a lot better if I felt the administration was seeking to correctly identify issues and finding places to jump in, instead of getting misty-eyed about Bill’s relatives who have had connections to public safety over the years. That kind of stuff isn’t going to fix today’s issues.

      1. Anonymous

        Before answering, let me first point out how novel it seems, apparently, to consider this perspective. Unfortunately this is the very essence of the problem. The operating assumption, post-Harper, is that the cops are a crooked, brutal bunch of jerks who need to come correct. This mindset is a very real barrier for this administration now that they actually must take part in leading the Bureau…it’s akin to leading with a slap instead of a handshake. Hundreds of officers, most of whom are doing an excellent job, have cause to wonder if their efforts are recognized or if the challenges they face are even understood. It’s unfair to lump these people with Harper and the few others whose rotten actions have sullied the badge. This is a problem for Peduto and his hipster cohort…you can’t just snap your fingers and get a new force…you need to work with the people you have.

        As for what they need, what they face daily…this just can’t be an afterthought, some kind of surprising revelation, a “jeez, I never considered it that way” thing. It needs to be front and center in the process, or it will just fail.

        An aside…bonus points for anyone who can tell us how long a rank and file officer needs to work before they are at the initial salary level of the incoming bike/ped coordinator (or any other manager-level position), without seeking secondary employment? And by “work”, I mean dodging bullets, ramming down doors and intervening in domestic situations, dealing daily with violence, death and everyday violence? What does you average cop think when he sees Costa tooling around in his new City-issued tricked-out Tahoe…when he can’t get his crappy software to work on his 7 year old laptop in order to do the most basic part of his job?

      2. bramr101 Post author

        So Anon 8:26 the daily obstacles and barriers our police face are: some other people in government make more than some of them, they have to deal with hipsters and other whites who empathize with minorities, and they get offended when people demand reform in the wake of public scandals? This is probably the genuine perspective of some officers, but I thought we were heading in a different direction. Instead of day-to-day challenges it seems like you’re airing resentments.

        What is the reaction when the Mayor and Chief express how it was too many years of politically-driven promotions which deteriorated certain kinds of standards, culminating in the investigations or the waste of the PIRC, rather than anything having to do with a general disdain for officers?

    1. Anonymous

      Peduto can never lead this bureau and neither can McLay. the fundamental issue is that Peduto and his supporters just don’t like police officers. They don’t like them participating in government. They don’t like their pensions. They don’t like their politics and wish they would all move out of the City and be replaced with hipsters.

      1. bramr101 Post author

        Eh, Anon 9:09, I’d say none of those assertions are more than half-true. The Mayor and his supporters acknowledge problems in the Bureau. I’ve met enough officers who feel askance about the force’s internal politics or past leadership to know that “disliking” police is silly — there’s more than enough to like.

  4. Anonymous

    Maybe this decade, we fix Public Safety. What decade is marked for tackling the Empire that is Public Works? Good luck there. So much noise about bringing in outside people and ideas to fix the Bureau…if ever there was a Department where we need new flashlights in the corners, it is DPW.

  5. Anonymous

    One question for Bram. Peduto: Great mayor, or the greatest mayor? Keep up the objective blogging, it’s great to read an unbiased opinion.

  6. Anonymous

    Women and Men who have professed to protect the many freedoms we enjoy in America do not deserve all the displaced anger that has been directed towards them by the frustrated masses. Please do not continue to unfairly blame the police for every breakdown in society.


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