South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

City OMI and CPRB explain their offices to Zone 3 Council

 

March 26, 2019



Presentations on investigating complaints against public safety personnel kicked off the March18 meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council held at the Knoxville Library.

In the first presentation, Erin Bruni of the Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI), said OMI has three functions: residency checks for city employees; public safety background investigations; and, citizen complaints against any city employee, including police officers.

She said for complaints they try to hold themselves to a 120-day timeline but it can take longer to sometimes get to the truth.

“We are fact-finders,” she said, and the office will reach out to any witnesses to ascertain the facts of an incident.

After collecting sufficient facts and evidence, OMI will make a determination called a “disposition.”

The four possible dispositions are: sustained, meaning an employee violated the rules or regulations; exonerated, meaning the employee did not violate rules or regulations; not resolved, meaning OMI cannot determine with certainty what happened; and unfounded, meaning OMI determined the allegations of misconduct are not true.

The person who filed the complaint will be notified by mail of the outcome.

The results are reviewed by the chain of command. The department director decides the next step.

Next, Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen’s Police Review Board (CPRB), discussed the board’s ability to only investigate allegations against police officers.

She said the review board was created in 1997 as an independent oversight of the city police following the deaths of two black men: Jerry Jackson and Jonny Gamage, the latter following a traffic stop outside the city.

The federal passage of a crime bill in 1994 paved the way for the Dept. of Justice to come in and investigate potential violations of human rights. Pittsburgh became the first city to be investigated.

In spring, 1997, a referendum in favor of creating the CPRB was passed.

Ms. Pittinger came aboard in 1999; nine public hearings were conducted in the beginning.

In 2009, the G20 international economic summit held in Pittsburgh led to 89 complaints of resident/police interactions. She said city council asked the CPRB not to pursue suing the city, but the board did anyway.

After Mayor Luke Ravenstahl did not reappoint five members of the seven-member board, the CPRB changed how appointments were made so the mayor did not have control.

Today, of the seven members, four come from a list of nominees submitted to the mayor by city council. The mayor chooses one out of three nominees for each seat, which is then sent back to city council. The rest of the list comes from the discretion of the mayor.

One of the city council appointees, and one of the mayor appointees, must have a law enforcement background.

The board meets every month except for August and November.

Under the city charter, the CPRB may provide policy recommendations to the city police.

To kick off the process, an individual must file a notarized statement (in contrast, OMI does not require notarized statements.)

For public hearings, the CPRB utilizes a special prosecutor, while the police officer is represented by an attorney from the Fraternal Order of Police.

The CPRB makes recommendations to the mayor and the chief of police about police conduct. The chief and mayor must respond in writing to the CPRB.

To a question about the role of cameras in investigations, Ms. Bruni said “cameras have been great.” For instance, if someone complains about the way a police officer talked to them, a video is often available.

To a question of whether to file a complaint with CPRB or OMI, each will jointly take a complaint and make sure you understand how each will process it. There may be instances when both will investigate the same complaint.

The complainant may request that it not go to OMI.

Public Safety Council president Liz Style recommended residents attend a free Citizens Police Academy where they will learn more about police procedures and practices.

“It really is eye-opening,” she said.

There are also two city-wide public safety meetings held each year during which information is disseminated and attendees may ask questions of the numerous police and city officials who are always in attendance.

In business/reports, there will be no April Zone 3 meeting as there will be a city-wide public safety meeting at the Teamster Temple, 4701 Butler St., Lawrenceville, from 6-8:30 p.m. on April 17. A light dinner will be served at 6 p.m.

The topic will be “Recognizing and Reporting Hate Groups and Extremism in Your Neighborhood,” featuring the Pittsburgh police, FBI Pittsburgh and the state police.

National Night Out will be held on Aug. 6. Ms. Style said the May 20 Zone 3 meeting will feature residents who hosted National Night Out events who will talk about their experiences and offer tips/advice for staging the events.

In the treasurer’s report, public safety council vice president Roy Blankenship said the group’s account has $261. The plan is to use some of that, plus some of the $2,000 allocated for each public safety council in the city’s 2019 budget, to help pay for the planned Picnic with Police event.

The family-oriented Picnic with Police is planned for 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on June 29 at the spray park in Arlington. The public safety council’s organizing committee will put together a list of what is needed.

There will be food, music, tables with information, and more. Food contributed by local vendors will be sought.

“This would be a signature event for this council,” Ms. Style said.

The purpose of the picnic is to bring police and public safety bureaus together with residents to develop and sustain mutual understanding and respect to maintain a safer Zone 3.

In crime trends, Zone 3 Commander Karen Dixon said there is nothing problematic, and that thefts from autos has decreased.

For St. Patrick’s Day, the zone received cooperation from Zones 4 and 6 early, and Zone 5 later in the day. There were no injuries, and only eight arrests.

She also reported a Slopes resident sent her an email at 4 a.m. that there were zero revelers on her porch. The resident, who was present at the public safety meeting, said “I could take a nap. It was fantastic.”

In his St. Patrick’s Day update, city Councilman Bruce Kraus called it “such a coordinated event.”

He said it began three years ago when Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich came on board to help as the celebration drew 20,000 to 30,000 to the South Side.

“He has worked diligently to coordinate,” Mr. Kraus said.

Mr. Kraus said he was carded, and that bar employees at every entrance were counting patrons to keep within their occupancy rates.

He gave a “special thanks” to Commander Dixon.

“She gets it, and works tirelessly,” he said.

He credited the 45 portable toilets, funded by South Side Parking Enhancement District (PED) funds, for keeping revelers from urinating in yards.

There was signage for the toilets, which were located at each surface lot.

The revenue from the PED -- the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m.-midnight on Fridays and Saturdays – is in a trust fund to be invested back in the area. The money must go to public safety, cleanliness, and infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood.

Mr. Kraus also said the bar owners did a great job on St. Patrick’s Day.

To a question about trends in car crashes, Commander Dixon said there has been improvement in drunk driving incidents through the use of Uber and Lyft rides.

A Carrick resident said there has been an increase in shots fired on Spokane Street. The commander said that has not come through on ShotSpotter so she would let the team know.

In public safety news, there will be a recycling event on May 11 at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills.

The block watch website is almost live, and National Night Out will also have a webpage going up very soon as well.

At the May 20 Zone 3 meeting, the Aug. 6 National Night Out will be discussed. The June 17 Zone 3 meeting will be the final business meeting before the Picnic with the Police.

 

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