Allegheny County Council takes step toward countywide police citizens' review board
Allegheny County Council took the first step toward creating a countywide citizens' police review board Tuesday by a narrow vote.
The ordinance, which the council approved 8-6, will allow two councilmen to hold up to four public meetings across the county to gather input to help them draft an ordinance to create the board.
Several community organizations have been advocating for such a board for years. Calls have been renewed in the wake of the June 19 fatal shooting of unarmed teen Antwon Rose by East Pittsburgh officer Michael Rosfeld.
The Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board oversees the city police, but no such body exists for county police or the more than 100 police departments within the county.
BREAKING: Motion to take step toward countywide police citizens' review board PASSES, 8-6. @TribLIVE— Theresa Clift (@tclift) July 10, 2018
Council members DeWitt Walton, D-Hill District; Paul Klein, D-Point Breeze; Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont; John Palmiere, D-Baldwin Township; Robert Palmosina, D-Banksville; Anita Prizo, D-O'Hara; Denise Renalli-Russell, D-Brighton Heights; , and John DeFazio, D-Shaler voted in favor of taking the step toward the review board. Council members Sue Means, R-Bethel Park; Sam DeMarco, R-North Fayette; Tom Baker, R-Ross; Robert Macey, D-West Mifflin; Pat Catena, D-Carnegie, and Cindy Kirk, R-McCandless voted against. Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale, was absent.
The ordinance will allow Walton and Klein to conduct up to four public meetings in August and September to gather input to help them draft an ordinance to create the board. That ordinance will go to the council no later than Oct. 23, the legislation says.
The body would oversee just the county police at first, with boroughs' and townships' elected officials having the option to join, Walton said. He hopes all municipalities decide to opt in, he said.
Before the vote, Catena proposed an amendment to the ordinance, which he said did not change the meaning, just added more structure and clarity.
They were about to vote and Catena proposed an amendment. It would look like this. pic.twitter.com/2sIzOFEBXH— Theresa Clift (@tclift) July 10, 2018
Catena's version crossed out language that read "the purpose of these sessions will be to aid them in gathering information to be used in evaluating the potential for drafting an ordinance relating to the creation of a county citizen's police review board" and replaced it with "…to help determine if the need is warranted in possible formation of a Citizens Review Board for the Allegheny County Police."
Walton strongly opposed. Council Democrats debated the amendment for more than an hour before the meeting, he said.
"There's no damn way that the need is not warranted," Walton said. "That's bullshit."
Dewitt has major issue with the words 'if the need is warranted' that is in the proposed amendment. Walton calls it 'bullshit.' Crowd agrees.— Theresa Clift (@tclift) July 10, 2018
Crowd members agreed, yelling out, "no justice no peace," and "lives are at stake."
The council's vote to adopt the amendment was 7-7, which failed. They then went on to adopt the original version.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has said East Pittsburgh Police Department has no written policies or procedures. That force, like many of the small municipalities, employs mostly part-time officers.
Kirk, who represents 15 municipalities mainly in the North Hills, said officials there told her they use body/dash cameras for accountability and already properly train their officers, who are mostly full-time. She also supports the merging of small departments, like four municipalities did in her area.
DeMarco voted against it partly because he said the county has no authority to oversee municipal police departments, he said.
"We don't oversee these other governmental bodies," DeMarco said. "There's a lot of work that would have to be done in Harrisburg."
State Sen. Jay Costa plans to introduce legislation that would require municipalities to adopt policies for use of deadly force, provide cultural training, and create a central database to store individual officer employee histories.
Klein said he supports Costa's effort and other efforts that may come from state legislators, but it's not enough.
"I don't think we can wait on Harrisburg," Klein said. "I think that work has to be done at the state level, but municipalities around the country picked up this responsibility … and we have a good starting point."
Palmiere: 'what you just witnessed there was democracy in action... right now the issue is let's get something done.' applause— Theresa Clift (@tclift) July 10, 2018
Walton, the council's only black member, said he has experienced racial profiling by police.
"Forty years ago, I was within a hair's breath of being Antwon Rose for a police officer pulling a pistol and sticking it in my face simply because I was black," Walton told reporters after the meeting. "It's an issue whose time has come."
William Anderson frequently takes complaints to the city's police review board, he told the council.
"There is no avenue with these 100-something police municipalities for a person -- not just a person of color, or a woman or a minority -- but any citizen of Allegheny County to feel like there is an open and transparent process for them to file their complaints," Anderson said.
In addition to the board, Tim Stevens, head of the Black Political Empowerment Project, urged the council to consider legislation to ask for federal, state, or private funding to pay for police training for the small boroughs and townships.
"This is important," Stevens said. "This is the moment."