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By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Residents of Zone 3 voice provide feedback onhiring a new police chief

 


The city’s search for its next police chief transformed the July 16 Zone 3 Public Safety Council meeting in Allentown into a community forum.

Community forums in all six of the city police zones began on June 26. The Zone 3 meeting was the fourth, with the other two scheduled in Zones 4 and 1 on, respectively, July 22 and 24.

The information residents provide will be relayed to the screening committee, which will develop a list of police chief candidates for consideration by Mayor Bill Peduto and Acting Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar.

About 50 residents participated in the two-hour Zone 3 forum, during which they were assigned to one of six tables to discuss what they want in a chief. There was a trained moderator at each table, and city staff members to answer questions.

Members of the screening committee were also present.

The process began with participants completing a pre-survey responding to questions about the focus issue, after which they received background materials with basic information and a balanced overview of various perspectives on the issue.

The structure followed that of Deliberative Democracy, an initiative housed at Carnegie Mellon University, and which seeks to discover what people think about an issue after they have had the opportunity to engage alternative perspectives.

Robert Cavalier, co-director of the program, said the benefits for participants of such forums include: developing an opinion informed by facts and information, and an understanding of how issues and policies affect others; and developing a more comprehensive collective knowledge of the issues.

Public safety council president Ken Wolfe kicked off the proceedings.

“Be as honest and vocal as you can tonight as this will impact you for a long time,” he said.

Moderator Leigh Halverson, deputy chief of staff for economic development, said the candidate search is being done in conjunction with the public-private Talent City initiative.

The organization has been instrumental in screening candidates for other key positions in the Peduto administration.

“We are getting a lot of outstanding input. In the end, it will result in a much better selection process,” Mr. Bucar said.

For the next 20 minutes, each table engaged in small-group deliberations. After introducing themselves, participants discussed criteria for a police chief, such as an emphasis on community policing, personal and professional integrity, and experience working successfully with diverse communities and populations.

The guidelines for participants were: give reasons or tell stories with your opinions; don’t interrupt; and be respectful.

“This is redesigning the town hall meeting,” Mr. Cavalier said.

The moderators at each table facilitated conversation by ensuring the discussion was well-structured.

When the allotted time ended, each table spent the next 30 minutes considering these questions: What priorities does your community need the new chief to address? What qualities and skills does your community need the new chief to possess? What can you and others do to help realize the vision of policing in partnership with the community?

Afterwards, the screening committee members who were present introduced themselves: Curby Anderson, Richard Garland, Erin Dalton, Valerie Dixon, Deborah Walker, Mr. Bucar, Fred Thieman (chair), David Harris, and James Malloy.

Next, each table asked a question of committee members.

The first question was about the weight assigned to the community policing experience of applicants.

Mr. Thieman, a former U.S. attorney, said the police and community acting as a team is the best way to prevent problems.

Another question was about the actual selection process, and how all the criteria factors into it.

“The chief you help pick will deliver those items you say you want in a police chief,” Mr. Bucar said.

While forum participants may not be involved in every step, they are involved through their input, he said.

Ms. Walker, manager of the Office of Municipal Investigations, said community policing has been a resounding theme in the community forums which the committee will not forget.

“Community policing will be at the very top of what this selection committee is looking for,” she said.

Ms. Halverson said residents can also contribute input online, and during “Mayor’s Night Out” events in which they may talk one-on-one with the mayor. To contribute online visit: http://pittsburghpa.mindmixer.com.

To a question of how the new chief will address youth and race relations, Mr. Garland, who works with troubled youth involved in gangs and violence, said he is looking for “a strong chief, a visionary, who will stand on his own when everyone is against him.”

There was also a question about the mechanism to gain input from the rank-and-file police officers.

Mr. Bucar said such a forum is planned for August.

He said when he was a child, he regarded the police as his friends. He does not like today’s perceptions of the city police.

“What kind of management do they need not to project that kind of image?” he asked.

The meeting concluded with participants completing an exit survey.

The next Zone 3 Public Safety Council meeting will be held on Sept. 17 at the South Hills Retirement Residence in Mt. Washington.

 

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