Several Pittsburgh City Council members said the city’s police chief and director of public safety assured them during a private briefing Thursday that if a crime against a person is reported in the city, an officer will be available to file a report in person.
Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay sent a memo to officers two weeks ago with a list of 14 incidents that would only be handled by the Telephone Reporting Unit – meaning a complainant would no longer be given the option of filing a report in-person with an officer for crimes like identity theft, burglary or harassment. McLay’s order says the policy is an effort to free up officers for priority calls and better utilize the call center that has trained workers.
Councilwoman Darlene Harris said the reporting unit was intended to be used for crime on property.
“But crime on person, you never know how that’s going to escalate,” she said. “Simple assault, harassment or terroristic threats.”
Harris and fellow council members Corey O’Connor, Natalia Rudiak and Theresa Kail-Smith met for almost an hour Thursday with McLay and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich after council members received numerous complaints about the policy when it comes to crimes against a person.
Hissrich said the policy would be modified, allowing a caller to request an officer.
Harris said the directors and council members are concerned because the number of police officers is down in the city – leading to prioritizing calls. She said of the last police academy class, 11 stayed in the city after receiving training and 30 left to work in the suburbs for a higher pay.
Kail-Smith said community members are concerned that a call of assault or domestic violence could escalate while a victim is making a phone report.
“I think we need to hear from the public what is most important to them, and what their concerns may be in terms of calls,” she said. “But I do appreciate that the police sent the policy in good faith hoping we would get some good feedback on it and gave us the opportunity to have some conversation with them and raise our concerns.”
The first memo directing dispatchers to transfer callers to Central Records and Reports Unit-Telephone Reports was issued in December of 2005. The memo said incoming 911 calls would be screened to determine if they would qualify to dispatch an officer or if it could be handled by the telephone report center.
McLay updated that policy stating that, “effective immediately, a complainant will no longer be given preference to refuse a telephone report and have an officer respond to the scene.”
City council has planned a post agenda for Sept. 20 to discuss the updated policy.