The Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) wants to meet with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to request immediate reinstatement of community members into the process of interviewing potential police recruits. Such participation was canceled abruptly this week after just a few days when police officers noticed a convicted felon taking part. The woman apparently fired a gun at another woman in the city's Hill District neighborhood and pled guilty last year to carrying a firearm without a license.
PIIN members had hoped that citizen participation would improve police/community relations and perhaps reverse the increasing lack of diversity in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. More than 82 percent of officers are white, but the city's population is 27.7 percent African-American. Mayor Ravenstahl, Safety Director Michael Huss, and Police Chief Nate Harper approved the inclusion of community members. At this morning's news conference in Sheraden outside the church where police recruit interviews were going on, PIIN members questioned the city's commitment to community inclusion, given the quick cancellation of the program for reasons they don't consider valid.
ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak said that the city should reconsider the cancellation. "It is vitally important, and if you don't reconsider, you simply give more ammunition to folks who claim that the city is intentionally discriminating against African American residents in hiring police officers."
PIIN President Richard Freeman said that community members who volunteered submitted applications requested by the city and were trained along with police by E.B. Jacobs, a civil service testing company. No background checks were ever mentioned, but Freeman said that they have no problem undergoing such checks if police officers do, too.
Mayor Ravenstahl's spokesperson, Joanna Doven, said that he will not make a statement or respond to PIIN's request for a meeting. She said that Safety Director Huss has said that including civilians in the process of interviewing police recruits is a good idea, and will be looked at again when interviews for the next class of recruits take place in 18 months.
PIIN President Freeman said that 18 months is too long to wait, and the interviews going on now should be suspended until the matter is resolved and community participation reinstated.