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Pittsburgh's Citizen Police Review Board mulls policy changes

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:10 a.m.

Pittsburgh police should make common-sense changes to policies covering how officers respond to 911 “unknown trouble” calls, the executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board said Monday.

Elizabeth Pittinger will present recommendations at the board's meeting Tuesday along with a report on findings of the board's investigation into the 911 call Ka'Sandra Wade, 33, of Larimer made a day before police found her dead of a gunshot wound at her Lowell Street home. Two Pittsburgh police officers responding to the call left after Wade's boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, 51, of Point Breeze, spoke to them through a window but refused to let them in. The officers never spoke to Wade or confirmed whether she was inside and needed help.

Brown confessed to killing her, then committed suicide during a standoff at his apartment early Jan. 2.

“The general issues that surround the horror she must've felt and how could this happen and all the questions we've heard are pretty broad,” Pittinger said.

The recommendations deal with how police should respond to “unknown trouble” — when people call 911 but hang up without specifying their situation or problem — and domestic violence calls, Pittinger said. The six-member board must determine whether to offer the recommendations to police officials and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

“They have no duty to implement them,” Pittinger said. “It's an advisory recommendation.”

Both the review board and the city's Office of Municipal Investigations look into complaints of officer misconduct. OMI investigates complaints against police, and the police chief must accept its findings. It does not make disciplinary recommendations or decisions.

The board previously worked with Councilman Ricky Burgess as he drafted a police accountability bill, which created new reporting requirements for city police following the beating of a Homewood teenager during an arrest in 2010. The board also helped with recommendations for a domestic violence policy for city officers.

The review board's meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers, also will focus on Pittsburgh police actions during a pursuit in the South Side. Five off-duty officers opened fire when a vehicle fleeing Homestead police careened along East Carson Street as the bars emptied early Jan. 13. A bullet grazed a bystander; the officers wounded the driver, Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie and his mother, Lena Davenport, 49, of Wilkinsburg. Burris faces charges.

“They hustled,” Pittinger said. “They got people out of the way, but you have the incident of the live fire. There's a lot to look at there.”

Deputy police Chief Paul Donaldson said both the Wade and Burris investigations are ongoing.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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