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Respect training for Pittsburgh police officers pitched

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By Margaret Harding
Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 11:52 p.m.
 

Pittsburgh police could receive training about treating residents with respect if legislation introduced in City Council on Tuesday becomes law.

Councilman Ricky Burgess presented four proposals, including a bill that would authorize the city to pay up to $150,000 to the Unleashing Respect Project. The group trains police officers to treat community members with “unconditional respect,” Burgess said. He has said there's a crisis in relations between the city police and the community, with each side believing the worst of the other.

“The best way to increase public safety is to increase community confidence,” said Burgess, who learned of the group from U.S. Attorney David Hickton.

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald said she has no problem with more training, but she questioned paying a single company $150,000.

“I feel that's exorbitant,” McDonald said. “We could spend $150,000 doing a lot of other training.”

Representatives with the Unleashing Respect Project could not be reached for comment.

“We have over 800 officers to train,” McDonald said. “It's important when we do programs like this that the company is able to do a ‘train the trainer' so we can have our own officers conduct the training on each shift.”

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Michael LaPorte called the proposed training insulting.

“We treat all people the way we want to be treated, until that person gives us a reason not to,” said LaPorte, a city police sergeant.

Burgess also proposed giving the Citizen Police Review Board about $20,000 to hold a police-community relations summit featuring national police experts. McDonald said the department has not been involved in discussions about a summit. She said she wasn't sure why the board would need $20,000 to do its work. The Citizen Police Review Board is an independent agency set up to investigate citizen complaints about improper police conduct.

“What we hope to be able to do is to create an environment that gets to the meat of a problem we have going on in Pittsburgh right now,” board Executive Director Beth Pittinger said. “Our goal is common. We want a safe community. We want people and cops to be safe, so we have to get there somehow.”

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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