South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Community Police Task Force tasked to recommend changes


Last updated 4/1/2021 at 8:04am

Updates on the Community Police Reform Task Force kicked off the March 15 meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC). The Zoom meeting also featured crime trend information and public safety news.

Mayor Peduto charged the task force to generate recommendations for change and reform in the Bureau of Police to ensure the city is a safe place, especially for black residents.

In her presentation, Lindsay Powell, assistant chief of staff, Office of the Mayor, said the task force identified these key areas for reform: eliminating racial disparities; officer wellness; reimagining policing; recruitment, training, education, and hiring; relations with Pittsburgh's Fraternal Order of Police; transparency and accountability; and use of force.

 Regarding eliminating racial disparities, Ms. Powell said the focus is "to identify and analyze racial disparities in route police actions, improve data collection, and partner with independent data analytic organizations."

A recommendation is that the Police Bureau and the city should gather and analyze more data on routine police actions, in as rigorous a way as possible; subject the data to regular and comprehensive analysis; and use that analysis to locate the explanations or source of disparate outcomes.

She said the Police Bureau is working to implement a new Records Management System that will collect significantly more statistical data as recommended.

For officer wellness, a goal is to "create new and modify existing programs to support a culture of community policing and the holistic wellness of officers." 

The recommendations aim to increase retention of personnel, promote mental wellness, reduce disciplinary issues, and improve police-community relations.

A wellness app will be launched that is specific to officer needs and the demands of their jobs.

Under recruitment, training, education, and hiring, the goal is to "recruit and retain more diverse officers, increase multicultural awareness, and create more opportunities for more informal interactions."

The Academy will have community-based training as a part of their offered continuing education courses.

Ms. Powell said the Police Bureau has banned all chokeholds, which was a recommendation of the task force.

The mayor's staff served as support staff for the task force, researching, drafting language, and coordinating meetings for task force members.

Besides Ms. Powell, other personnel in attendance from the Office of the Mayor were Hersh Merenstein, Local Government and Community Relations coordinator, and Alaa Mohamed, policy coordinator.

The final report of the Task Force, with executive summary, is available at: .

In the question-and-answer session that followed, an attendee asked if there was a way for recruits to tell where they would like to be assigned, such as on duty or with activity groups.

Sgt. Tiffany Kline Costa, head of the Community Engagement Unit (CEU) of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, said after graduation recruits can usually choose their preferred zone based on proximity to their homes.

The process is that they spend four years on patrol to learn how communities work. CEU officers also talk to recruits.

To a question if any of the recommendations generated by the task force have been implemented, Ms. Powell said some have while others are for future discussion.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said about 12-16 weeks ago he and other officials met with a group of black leaders in the South areas on "reimaging police."

What he heard over and over again was that no one was interested in defunding police, a movement in some cities last summer.

But, he added, "protecting and serving" and "policing a neighborhood" differ. If a police officer comes in with a pre-conceived notion of a neighborhood and polices it, that is not good.

Mr. Kraus said it is important for officers to know a community, its residents, the culture, leadership, and then "police and serve."

A Knoxville resident said there is "no way" she wants to defund the police.

She said she wants officers to feel "a part of the community," and for there to be mutual respect.

"It is important to remember how forward we are compared to other cities," Mr. Kraus said.

He said he is pleased residents want the police to be "partners and collaborators."

Next, in crime trends, Police Sgt. Anthony Rosato said the past month in the zone was busy. 

With the St. Patrick's Day celebration the prior weekend there were centralized patrols.

"It turned out very well," he said. One citation was issued, and there were no arrests.

Last month, there were two shootings: one was gang-related, while the other was a domestic in which a mentally-disturbed juvenile shot his stepfather.

The police also responded to numerous accidents caused by the winter weather.

Sgt. Rosato said a big issue in clearing snow and ice in the area is the hills. He said the Dept. of Public Works needs to salt the major artery streets, like Maytide St.

Another problem is homeless people on the railroad tracks.

There are lots of overdoses, he said, in which the police try to bring them back. They might also take them to de-tox centers.

A scam being run is unauthorized Chase Bank debit cards being mailed to homes. The zone received hundreds of calls from residents worried about their identities being stolen.

The FBI and Secret Service are involved.

Dirt bikes and ATVs on streets, which are illegal, is also a big problem, he said. Call 911 if you witness this. 

They are not pursued on roadways as the police cannot risk injuries by having someone run over during a pursuit. A driver may also die in a pursuit.

However, the police may cite and tow the vehicles.

Sgt. Rosato said there are three phases of dealing with this problem: education and outreach; intelligence gathering and collaboration; and investigation and enforcement.

The first involves informing parents of the trouble their children can get in with illegal ATV and dirt bike ride-outs.

An attendee said residents do not understand the frustration of police. Part of the education must be the limitations the police have with dirt bikes and ATVs.

Sgt. Rosato said he stopped a quad in Carrick, issued a large fine, and had it towed. The owner must show it is registered in Pennsylvania or he will not have it returned to him.

Donna Williams, Z3PSC's block watch development chair, said many block watches have cameras, and should be looked at. Call 911 if you see dirt bikes and ATVs on streets and give the spot in which they are riding.

Sgt. Rosato said a youngster received a citation for riding his vehicle on Maytide St., and the mother was told if it happens again the mother receives the citation.

Ten days later the youngster was spotted on camera riding again. The mother said she will file a complaint.

On another topic, an attendee asked about shots fired in the park the prior Wednesday. She said numerous people heard the shots. 

Sgt. Rosato said seven to eight shots were fired that day in various local areas, but he did not find any casings in the park. But he will research the matter.

He also reported bikers will be heading up Mt. Washington as the weather warms. 

As soon as the police leave, they act up again, he said. There will be 30-minute to one-hour directed patrols there, and with a zero-tolerance policy, he said.

There is a need to address "a few bad apples," he said.

Next, Mr. Kraus said there seems to be a new style of illegal dumping, which is abandoning trash on city streets. He observed it in Knoxville and Beltzhoover the past two months.

"There seems to be a culture taking place," he said.

At the meeting's conclusion, Z3PSC President Liz Style said new Zone 3 Commander John Fisher, who replaced the retiring Commander Karen Dixon, is unable to attend the Z3PSC meetings as he has Mondays off.

As a result, she said a new night be chosen for the monthly meetings, but she will let everyone know if that changes.

For now, the next Z3PSC meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 19.


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