Local
7:04 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

Pittsburgh Police Reform Bills Signed into Law

Police accountability legislation that had been debated in Pittsburgh City Council for more than a year has finally become law.

In Homewood on Thursday, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signed the last of four bills that supporters say will discourage inappropriate use of force by police officers.

Ravenstahl said the signing was a symbolic move toward better relations between the community and the police.

"This effort to get this legislation passed and signed is the first step in doing that," said Ravenstahl. "Getting people around the table, which hasn't happened before, is now taking place."

Community groups were on hand to laud the bill's passage into law.

"We want to respect and support the police," said Tim Stevens, Chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project. "But respect comes with respect, and hopefully this bill will keep our police officers conscious of the need to respect and interact with the citizens in an appropriate way."

A Look at the New Laws

Ravenstahl said the bill he signed in Homewood was the most important of the four, requiring the Chief of Police to publicize an annual report on twenty crime statistics.

"The number of arrests by race, by age, by gender, and all of those arrests distinguished by zone," said Ravenstahl, listing some of the contents of the reports. He said that the first will be published in 2012, and the data will be available electronically starting in 2013.

A second measure requires that the city outfit all marked police cars with cameras within the next five years. Any new marked cars must come pre-equipped with the recorders, and the Bureau of Police must archive the tapes that it records.

A third law calls for the Office of Municipal Investigations to look into any incident where a police officer's use of force may have been unnecessary.

The fourth new law orders the Pittsburgh Police to pursue state-level accreditation as quickly as possible. The Bureau of Police says it's currently finishing up that process and should be finished within the year.

A Long Time Coming

Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced the three bills early last year, in response to a January 2010 incident in which three Pittsburgh policemen allegedly beat unarmed high school student Jordan Miles during an arrest.

Charges against Miles were later dropped.

The three officers — Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte, and David Sisak — were put on paid leave, but returned to duty this May, one day after the U.S. Department of Justice finished an investigation by deciding against a civil rights lawsuit.

The local Office of Municipal Investigations also looked into the matter, but its report hasn't been released to the public. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has not said whether he'll prosecute the officers, despite repeated calls to do so from community groups like the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) and the Black Political Empowerment Project.

APA Chairwoman Brandi Fisher said her group is organizing another rally this Saturday in Market Square, where activists will once again demand that the District Attorney prosecute Officers Ewing, Saldutte, and Sisak.