Wade murder not linked to Officer-Involved Domestic Violence. Why treat it that way?

By Beth Pittinger
This debate on the proposed amendment to the City Code to establish as an official, permanent, City Board or Commission, a Domestic Violence Review Board, Advisory Panel, Task Force, etc. is distracting from what many have amplified: this is NOT about Officer Involved Domestic Violence (OIDV). We need everyone to focus on developing an adequate, responsive and accountable system of police intervention in community based incidents of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)/ Domestic Violence (DV), etc.

Right now there are two Domestic Violence Review Boards in the City (controlled by the administration) and one independent Citizen Police Review Board whose charter mandates review of all things related to police. Personally, I see Bill 2013-1482 as redundant, extraordinarily so, but I also see a very important purpose for a temporary, ad hoc,  task-driven group of IPV/DV advisors related to the implementation of the Maryland Lethality Assessment Protocol.

I would encourage appointment of a focused advisory task force impaneled to sit concurrently with the 24 month implementation of the Maryland LAP. They would provide guidance, research and evaluation related to the LAP project.  At the end of the two years, the need to codify such an advisory group could be reconsidered.

The substance of the landmark 2007 OIDV legislation must be off the table, and the public be assured that there is NOT a surreptitious intention to impanel this IPV/DV Board/Panel/Task Force for the real purpose of dissecting and deconstructing the OIDV ordinance. This is a common suspicion and, if accurate, is certainly not the way to go about a policy debate. It’s a sneaky notion and one that betrays public trust.

The sponsor, Councilman Burgess, set forth a legislative package to honor Ms. Wade and hopefully to prevent a similar event in the future. Officers responded to Ms. Wade as a call for “unknown trouble” not a call known to be DV related. Ms. Wade was not the victim of OIDV. So how did we get to an agenda apparently seeking to review OIDV under the guise of police implementing the Maryland Lethality Assessment under the direction of a third domestic violence advisory entity?

Another issue that comes up is the alleged disparate treatment of cops as a class different from other employees (yes, we know they are, but nonetheless…) by amending the Citywide DV policy (ordinance derived from 2010-0009) to include the OIDV instead of OIDV residing under the Director of Public safety, but to bring that up now would make it muddier than it is already!

Beth Pittinger is Executive Director of the Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB), an independent agency within the City of Pittsburgh set up to investigate citizen complaints about improper conduct by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. This editorial commentary does not reflect the official position of the CPRB.

37 thoughts on “Wade murder not linked to Officer-Involved Domestic Violence. Why treat it that way?

  1. Bram Reichbaum

    Thanks to Beth for submitting a post here, and to Helen for arranging it.

    I have one question: Is the impression that I am under correct, that the 2007 “landmark” OIDV ordinance is not working as intended (is not effective) because officers are successfully pleading that it discriminates unfairly between different types of City employees?

    If “yes” or “somewhat, yes”, how would you feel about expanding the 2007 regulations to apply to all City of Pittsburgh employees in order to cure that deficiency? If “pretty good” (and these are a lot of 'ifs') then although it's not directly related to the Wade incident, it seems to me like a good a time as any in that there's no time like the present… even if it was initially presented as a ball of yarn.

  2. flybylight

    Bram, if I may jump on Beth's toes here and offer answers to your questions…

    First of all, other employees of the City (under their separate Personnel ordinance) are subject to any remedy up to and including termination. So although there is still “zero tolerance,” termination is not necessarily the outcome, depending upon the supervisor and the Director of Personnel, and procedures followed.

    We are indeed permitted to hold officers in Pennsylvania to a higher standard – I don't know the citation for that, but the Deputy Solicitor repeated it recently in City Council – and the reasons in this instance are huge. Officers committing DV can – as they do with criminals – stalk their victims, find them at the shelters, trace their phone records, monitor them, and expect that fellow officers won't arrest them for the crime. Their very jobs can be invasive, more than, say, a ditch-digger.

    The law is a good one. If lawyers cannot win their cases, that does not make the law bad.

    (Note the trouble the City has been having getting convictions under the No Public Pee-Pee law – magistrates don't convict, even when culprits are caught in pee flagrante.)

    Note that the one conviction cited as failed was before an arbitrator. The FOP chooses arbitrators – they provide a list from which arbitrators are drawn. The system is already rigged.

    We won't even discuss how we elect our judges, magistrates, et al. We just voted a primary with judicial candidates – how did everyone choose for whom to vote?

    The OIDV Ordinance was acclaimed coast to coast when it was passed. It remains a model piece of legislation. There is no reason to change it.

    Dave Thomas of Johns Hopkins, an expert at officer-involved domestic violence, made a presentation before Pittsburgh City Council (Post-Agenda Hearing of September 10, 2013) discussing how important it is to treat officer-involved domestic violence differently. Without asking his permission, and for informational and educational purposes only, I have posted a copy of his PowerPoint on my own website. It's really dry without him presenting it, and very simplistic without his speech, but still maybe folks can learn something, and stop messing with that ordinance.

  3. Bram Reichbaum

    Then, how do we fix the rather glaring problem that these cases go before arbitrators, and employee unions select arbitrators on the basis of willingness to be lenient in such cases? One could make the argument, if we can't fix that, we may as well save our lawyers time and the public's expense. 🙁

  4. flybylight

    Better lawyers across the table? Larger public outcry? Appeal the cases to higher courts where the contract permits? Change the contract next time around so that it does permit? Press for the Police – who generally are out to protect and serve and do so wonderfully – to spit out those rotten apples, because they bring down the perception of the entire force?

    In 2007, Jim Malloy of the FOP said that what goes on behind closed doors [at the officers' home] is no one else's business. He felt that we should ignore the commission of the crime of domestic violence, even after hearing the testimony providing otherwise.

    Perhaps a strong Mayor will make that happen.

  5. Anonymous

    Thank you Beth, for such a well reasoned, thoughtful and fair assessment. I was blindsided by Ricky Burgess' involvement. I'm glad that your board is taking a more tempered view at this issue. I know how hard it is to police and am glad that people did not jump on the bandwagon of righteous indignation.
    I hope that when Bill takes office next year that some of this nonsense from Grant St. will stop. The Mayor and Ricky Burgess have been “sneaky” and I admire Bill for staying strong to this style of leadership.

  6. Bram Reichbaum

    Will “better lawyers” help if the arbitrators are subject to ulterior interests? I wouldn't think so, and I would think changing the contract next time so that it permits “appealing cases to higher courts” (aka getting rid of arbitration?) would be awful tough to bargain. Especially considering how much there apparently is in the contracts to bargain.

    I suspect we need an organized FOP membership putting forward strong, progressive FOP leaders ready to act in the workforce's enlightened self-interest in building a profoundly respectable, sustainable police force and city. An FOP interested in pro-actively weeding out bad apples (despite the stresses and demands of their profession) and growing choice apples, County Fair blue-ribbon winning apples. Sounds like a long-term project.

  7. Bram Reichbaum

    I keep hearing “sneaky” when it comes to the Rev etc. I feel like to an extent the real issue is objectives. We all aspire to be skilled at pursuing our objectives, and legislating is a multifaceted pursuit. The question I'd like to ask is whether the Rev was / is pursuing a costly and inappropriate favor to the FOP, or doing his sincere best to save the City & Law Dept. some hassle and expense, and / or if this is just another simple mistake or error in judgment on the road to sound reforms.

  8. Bram Reichbaum

    SHORT-term, I begin to suspect that yes, we should focus on the Maryland Lethality Assessment approach and weighing its and other things' impact on intimate partner violence / domestic violence in our communities. That falls a little more squarely into the category of “protecting and serving” than these labor-management trench wars. And it might spark some synapses besides.

  9. Mark Rauterkus

    If you make something in government, I want it to have a sunset. Those 24 months is a long time, but okay. However, should it go a day into the 25th month, I'd object.It would be better to do 12 months.

  10. Helen Gerhardt

    The FOP has a window of time before a new mayor begins to institute reforms that will most certainly shake up the status quo. It's to be expected that any union will advocate for positions that will entrench current benefits and status for their members. I can imagine that various Council members and staff may have been convinced to make changes by information and advice presented from a range of directions – and perhaps without full knowledge of the context and rigorous research into best practices regarding OIDV that founded the 2007 legislation and brought national attention to what is now considered an exemplary model.

  11. Helen Gerhardt

    Of course, the longer range view of “benefits for members” would include consideration of the greater safety that results for police officers working with communities that have been reassured that their police force is willing to meet the highest standards of accountability.

  12. flybylight

    Perhaps had the Mayor sent the police brass to Maryland for Dave Thomas' free training in police-involved domestic violence, this would not be such an issue. Education can be a scary thing, but that doesn't mean we should shy away from it.

  13. flybylight

    Council members being willing to deconstruct an acclaimed ordinance without viewing the Post-Agenda Hearing held while the original bill was in committee should be ashamed of themselves. Since the amending was at first veiled (new legislation concerning DV woven through the OIDV ordinance instead of being introduced somewhere else), and then there was a total surprise of a new amendment changing the intent of the original OIDV ordinance (later rescinded by accession, to put it nicely), one cannot fault all of the Council members, because they all did not know.

    Those who were involved in making the original legislation and sudden amendment – Burgess, Harris, and Kail-Smith – should have watched the Post-Agenda Hearing and done other research first. Subsequently excluding (from the Working Group that Burgess arranged) folks who were involved in 2007, although they were volunteering, shows further intent to ignore facts of construction of the 2007 Ordinance.

    Declaring further an intent to task the new Board with deconstructing the 2007 ordinance, and saying that the nefarious amendment should not have been introduced YET, as Burgess has done, further sets the question.

    Then Harris and Smith saying as much about the new Board being tasked to deconstruct in the Press Conference and in an email enshrines it.

    So without looking into the past (which was why we made the Post-Agenda, for education and posterity), they intend to undo it aggressively, no matter what anyone says, no matter how folks try to educate them otherwise – an education that is readily available in the City Council archives from September 10, 2007.

    Maybe “sneaky” is not the right word for that.

  14. flybylight

    Councilwoman Kail-Smith will hold a Post-Agenda Hearing in Council Chambers, 5th Floor, City-County Building, on Wednesday, June 5, at 1:00 p.m.

    A Post-Agenda Hearing is a vehicle to educate Council and the public about matters relative to a bill on the table or other matter concerning the City. Speakers / presenters are invited by the Councilmember to provide the information.

    In 2007, we invited all sides to the table. We went out of our way to be sure all were represented. I hope the Councilwoman will do the same for this Post-Agenda.

    And we should be sure to have plenty of concerned citizens sitting in the gallery watching and learning.

  15. Helen Gerhardt

    I hope that Council member Theresa Kail-Smith and other members will invite some of the most concerned and expert citizens that will be sitting in that audience during the June 5th Post-Agenda Hearing to contribute their input, most surely including Beth Pittinger of the CPRB.

    I must say that it seems strange and remiss to me that the Council member who represents me and who represented Ka'Sandra Wade did not invite Ms. Pittinger to more fully participate in his attempted reforms and amendments to legislation regarding the police Bureau and OIDV. I strongly urge Reverend Burgess to allow his constituents and all other citizens of Pittsburgh to actively benefit from her expertise in all such future work.

  16. Anonymous

    An easy solution – give the CPRB a seat at arbitration hearings. Open the sore up to the disinfecting power of sunlight. Even if is it just in a listening role or a “friend of the City” role, the CPRB should be able to sit in, listen AND receive the written results of the arbitration.

    The CPRB could then brief council in executive session on arbitrations.

    This role should apply to all police arbitrations not just DV related ones.

    The way to approach this is through strengthening the CPRB through legislation requiring them to sit in on the arbitrations.

    The City and the police union have taken great advantage of the apparent weaknesses in the CPRB legislation and only Council can address this through legislation.

    Through legislation, the CPRB should be given a seat at the recruit selection board (commonly known as the Chief's round table) even if it is only in a listening mode. That way they can make informed recommendations on changes needed or affirm that the selection process was fair.

  17. Anonymous

    Considering the bromance that Bram and Rev Ricky have going, sneaky is such an ugly word. This page can never agree that Rev. Ricky may not be all that and a bag of chip's. I watched that bait & switch meeting and am still scratching my head ad trying to understand just what the hell just happened.
    Thank goodness that Bill and others were able to turn that ship-wreck right. And Rev. Ricky blames everyone else for his legislation. Gee Bram, get a room.

  18. flybylight

    And may Councilman Burgess have no further “attempted reforms and amendments to legislation” regarding the OIDV. At all.

    And an off-the-wall curiosity: Why do so many use his honorific “Reverend” rather than “Councilman Burgess” and yet no one calls Councilman Dowd “Dr. Dowd,” which is his professional honorific?

  19. flybylight

    We are informed (thank you to Councilwoman Rudiak) that the date and time for the Post-Agenda Hearing on Bill 2013-1482 concerning the “Establishment of Pittsburgh Domestic Violence Advisory Board” has been postponed from this Wednesday to Tuesday, June 25th, at 2:00 p.m.

  20. Anonymous

    I think all politicians can be “sneaky” at times.

    Consider the time that 4 council members decided to sue to stop the Lamar business at the bus station. Only 4 — so no quorum — no council meeting — no requirement to advertise meeting and let public offer input.

    Coincidentally, that very same day at the very same time, another council member decided to file suit on his own over the same issue.

    No “sneakiness” there.

  21. Anonymous

    Doesn't matter how many it took to sue — the point was that it appears that five members of council got together, therefore a quorum was in place and this represented an unannounced council meeting in which a decision was made to sue. They then apparently split that up into the 4/1 double lawsuit in order to avoid the appearance of a council meeting. However well intentioned, it was still sneaky — so “sneakiness” is not in the sole domain of one council person.

  22. Bram Reichbaum

    Did it really appear to you that Dowd “got together” with the other four? You think they were play-acting how it caused them to bitterly despise each other, and their resultant fight over the legal bill was just a farce?

    Sorry, I'm just amazed that somebody still feels resentful over that when the billboard in question was so overwhelmingly, profoundly, ludicrously illegal. I'm surprised the whole building didn't explode or maybe melt just from illegality alone. Hey, wasn't it a lot more “sneaky” how the parking authority, the za, bbi and the law dept. colluded to try to elude every law of open meetings and public bidding in order to make that happen?

  23. flybylight

    And we are further informed that the Public Hearing on this matter will occur at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25th, immediately prior to the Post-Agenda Hearing.

    Members of the public may sign up to speak for no more than three minutes by contacting the City Clerk's office at 412-255-2138. Those who do not register ahead of time can speak for one minute.

  24. Anonymous

    Agree with you on the billboards and the way they were “authorized”; but, that the point was not to defend the ill-advised and poorly conceived sale of space at the bus station.

    The point was that when 5 council persons come out at the same day and same time and announce two separate lawsuits; it gave me the impression that a non-public meeting was held (regardless of feelings among council members later). If a non-public meeting was held, that was sneaky.

    Your point about the way the billboards were “authorized” simply strengthens my argument that ALL politicians are sneaky when it suits their ends.

  25. Bram Reichbaum

    In regards to “the same day and the same time”… it was the final day of the 30-day window to file a protest appeal. So it's not particularly noteworthy that two different moves were made that day.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.