Community Task Force on Policing Recommendations gives six-month update
September 28, 2021
By Margaret L. Smykla
A six-month update on implementation of the Community Task Force on Policing Recommendations was the focus of the Sept. 23 meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC). The Zoom meeting also featured crime trend information and other community news.
The task force presenters were Laura Drogowski, director of the Office of Community Health and Safety (OCH&S), and Rev. Cornell Jones, Group Violence Intervention (GVI) coordinator, City of Pittsburgh.
Last year, Mayor Bill Peduto charged the task force “to lay out a blueprint for real and sustained change and reform for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, generating recommendations for concrete suggestions and people-oriented solutions that will make Pittsburgh a safe and healthy place for all of our citizens, especially for members of our Black community.”
Ms. Drogowski said the key areas of reform are: eliminating racial disparities; officer wellness; reimagining policing; recruitment, training, education and hiring; relations with Pittsburgh’s Fraternal Order of Police; transparency and accountability; use of force changes needed to Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Policy; and use of tear gas, rubber bullets, “flash-bang” devices and other less lethal methods of crowd control.
The OCH&S’ areas of focus were reimagining policing and officer wellness/recruitment, training, education, and hiring.
This is what OCH&S does: elevates first responder experience and insights; develops co-response/alternative response/warm hand-off models; identifies and incorporates community priorities; addresses high utilization and engagement; collaborates with providers and academic partners to implement public health practices; and builds social service follow-up culture and practice.
The specific recommendations include: implement crisis intervention efforts to provide a non-police response or hybrid response for non-criminal incidents centered on human service needs; align human services’ functions currently handled by the police; provide the police with resources and support to effectively respond to non-criminal human service calls/needs; support non-law enforcement crisis intervention partners for the recommendations, including mental health interventions, school and-out-of-school time activities; and more.
Ms. Drogowski said the police received 350,000+ calls for service in 2019.
In response, a multitude of community-grown responses are being explored to create alternative service units.
Ms. Drogowski said the city is looking to hire social workers to identify and support those individuals whose needs are not met by the traditional public safety response.
The starting annual pay is $60,563. For more information, visit the City of Pittsburgh job site.
She can be emailed at: email@example.com.
Rev. Jones said it was determined in the 1990s that there is a need for more than police officers – there is a need for social services.
For the past four years various individuals and agencies have been coming together to counteract street violence in Pittsburgh, he said.
Through GVI, individuals most likely to commit a violent crime are identified. Outreach workers aim to help them abandon their dangerous lifestyle.
He and his team are currently expanding their efforts to deal with street violence, he said.
In questions-and-answers, Richard Carrington, of the South Pittsburgh Peacemakers, asked about RFPs, or requests for proposal.
The response was that doing business with the city requires an organization and business. For more information, visit: https://pittsburghpa.gov/beacon/bid-opportunities.html
Next, Sharlee Ellison, of the Knoxville Community Council, commented that people are still getting shot in the street. What is the city doing about gun violence? she asked.
Rev. Jones said that his team tries to de-escalate those situations which they see starting.
“It’s all hands on deck,” he said of the involvement of various agencies.
But much violence is relationship-related so it cannot be anticipated.
“A lot happens behind doors, and we are not able to get to those situations,” he said.
There would be more violent incidents if outreach workers were not present in communities, he said.
In his response to Ms. Ellison’s question, Zone 3 Commander John Fisher said “we [police] can only respond to violence.”
He cited the breakdown in family structure as a factor.
“It’s a very complex problem,” he said.
Mr. Carrington asked what is the proper forum to talk about what we can do better, for instance, how is the money being spread out?
Z3PSC vice president Roy Blankenship said a steering committee needs to be formed. Ms. Style said she would work on putting together a group to meet.
Rev. Eileen O. Smith, director of the South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace (SPCP), a conglomerate of groups and agencies committed to the prevention of violence in South Pittsburgh, said she would like to talk to Commander Fisher about working closer together.
She said a potentially dangerous situation arose for Mr. Carrington when he showed up at a murder scene recently and none of the roughly 10 police officers on the site knew who he was.
The South Pittsburgh Peacemakers is an initiative of the SPCP.
In community announcements, Mr. Blankenship reported the city’s fifth annual Garbage Olympics was recently held, and that Knoxville was a winner. The city-wide cleanup event went from 9 to 11 a.m.
In crime trends, Commander Fisher said fentanyl overdoses resulted in a 27 percent fatality rate in the city.
“It is very lethal,” he said.
Homicides and aggravated assaults are up compared to a year ago in the city, he said.
Meg O’Brien, director of economic development, Hilltop Alliance, thanked the commander for the increase in foot patrols.
Ms. Ellison asked the commander about a Zara St. problem she alerted him to. He said he forwarded the message to the relevant officials.
Rev. Smith reported the South Pittsburgh Peacemakers will be submitting a grant to bring another peacemaker aboard.
“They are hitting the pavement and responding,” she said.
In announcements, Ms. Style said anyone in the city with hearing issues may apply for a free smoke detector designed for those who are hard of hearing, deaf, or deaf/blind. Call 412-281-1375, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The service is through the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire in partnership with the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services.
Ms. Ellison reported St. Paul AME Church, 400 Orchard Place, has been doing COVID testing on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting Oct. 1, the hours will be 1 to 4 p.m. on Fridays.
On Oct. 3, from 1 to 3 p.m., the church will be partnering with UPMC to offer COVID-19 vaccines in the church’s Fellowship Hall. Walk-ups are welcome. To schedule an appointment, call 833-653-0518 and ask for the church.
In the final announcement, information on the city youth sports grant fund 2021 can be found at: https://pittsburghpa.gov/office-of-equity/sports-fund-program .
The annual fund of $150,000 will assist local youth teams to purchase equipment, playtime, and more. The deadline to apply is Oct. 29.
The next Z3PSC meeting will be via Zoom at 6 p.m. on Oct 28. The topic will be “Brashear Association: New Location, Program Updates and Services,” with presenter Margie Schill, communications and marketing manager for the Brashear Association.
The November Z3PSC meeting will be held on Nov. 18. There will be no December meeting.