County council votes down Allegheny police review board, supporters vow to keep pushing
The Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse erupted into chants of “vote them out” and “we’ll be back” following a vote by Allegheny County Council on Tuesday against establishing a countywide police review board.
Council voted 9-6 against the ordinance, which was co-sponsored by District 10 Councilman DeWitt Walton, D-Hill District, and District 11 Councilman Paul Klein, D-Point Breeze.
“Our goal is to make government work and to make it work more effectively, and that means that we have to bring about change,” Walton said of the proposed ordinance. “This legislation brings about change.”
Discussion around forming a countywide review board to evaluate complaints of alleged misconduct by law enforcement intensified after 17-year-old Antwon Rose II was fatally shot by former East Pittsburgh Police officer Michael Rosfeld in June 2018.
Walton and Klein introduced legislation to establish the countywide police review board in December, modeling it after a similar review board that has existed in the City of Pittsburgh since 1997.
County council received public comment on the ordinance during a special committee meeting last week.
The board would have had oversight of Allegheny County law enforcement. Any municipality or municipal authority would have been allowed to opt in.
“We may not ever bind up the wounds that divide the police and the policed in many places,” Klein said prior to the vote. “But can’t we try to do something? Can’t we do better than we’re doing right now?”
Klein and Walton, along with John DeFazio, D-Shaler; Robert Palmosina, D-Banksville; Anita Prizio, D-O’Hara and Paul Zavarella, D-Plum voted in favor.
Critics of the proposed ordinance said it would be too costly and questioned whether civilians had the expertise to oversee law enforcement.
At-large Councilman Sam DeMarco III, R-North Fayette, argued that elected officials like county council and municipal councils already serve as civilian oversight. He voted against the ordinance, which he said had ”significant flaws.”
“There’s nothing in there that talks about cost, there’s nothing in there that addresses what it’s going to cost the taxpayers,” DeMarco said. “And when we talk about civilian oversight, every one of us here on this board are the civilians that should be overseeing the police.”
Council members Thomas Baker, R-Ross; Patrick Catena, D-Carnegie; Cindy Kirk, R-McCandless; Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin; Sue Means, R-Bethel Park; John Palmiere, D-Baldwin and Denise Ranalli Russell, D-Brighton Heights, also voted against the ordinance.
Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont, also voted against the ordinance but voiced support for bringing the issue to a countywide referendum vote, which would allow the public to vote on the formation of the review board.
“This is not the ending, for this evening,” Futules said. “I believe there are other options, regardless of this outcome.”
Supporters of the ordinance admonished council members for voting against the ordinance but promised to keep pursuing the formation of a police review board.
“You’re sending a message. What are you really afraid of here? It’s just accountability,” Fawn Walker-Montgomery, a candidate for the mayor of McKeesport and co-chair for the Committee for a Civilian Police Review Board of Allegheny County, a community group advocating for the formation of the review board, said following the vote. “Holding police accountable. You cannot expect police to police the police.”
Other supporters of the ordinance also vowed to keep pushing for the formation of the board next year, after new members of council are sworn in.
“This is not the end, this is only the beginning,” Louis Berry, also a co-chair of the Committee for a Civilian Police Review Board of Allegheny County, said following the vote. “We’ll run ballot initiatives, we’ll do whatever it takes to get the result that the public needs.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .