Allegheny County Council introduces legislation to create police review board

Allegheny County Council introduces legislation to create police review board

Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell/Wednesday, December 19, 2018/Categories: Pittsburgh

After a summer of public input, Allegheny County Council introduced an ordinance to create a countywide citizens’ police review board Tuesday.

The legislation comes in the wake of calls for reform from community that followed the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. in June, but County Councilman DeWitt Walton (D-Hill District) and review board backer said the move is a long time coming.

“As we’ve said on numerous occasions, this legislation is designed to protect the rights of residents of Allegheny County but it also protects the rights of law enforcement,” Walton said.

In 2012, his predecessor, County Councilman Bill Robinson, tried and was ultimately unsuccessful in introducing similar legislation. Now, Walton hopes the creation of board will protect citizens and officers alike.

However, even in its earliest stages the proposal was opposed within and outside of council.

Some law enforcement officials told council complaints against county officers was so rare, such a board is unnecessary. And although municipalities can opt-in, council has no power to force their participation.

Yet, councilmembers, such as co-sponsor Paul Klein (D-Point Breeze), believe its existence will set an example within the county. Additionally, Klein said, during the public hearings he found many citizens were concerned about the investigation process in cases of alleged police misconduct.

“The creation of this kind of board will not cure all that ails us because our racial challenge in this country has deep roots,” Klein said. “But it’s our hope that we’ll have the chance to consider opportunities to address our changing population.”

While the board is a step in the right direction for Klein, he remains concerned about the disparities in resources between municipal police departments from shrinking budgets and populations.

“Many of our communities are facing challenges that were brought to light in by the experience in East Pittsburgh,” Klein said. “We can’t look to a future where we can realistically maintain 109 municipal police forces in various different shapes and sizes.”

While some concerns raised over the summer went unmentioned, councilmembers debated over bill’s process. Councilman Sam DeMarco (R-North Fayette) alleged a lack of transparency due to having not received the transcripts to the public hearings.

Councilwoman Sue Means (R-Bethel Park) additionally found it irregular that Council President John DeFazio (D-Shaler) created a special committee to advance the bill.

“Usually there’s deliberation in the committee, there’s members in the committee, and they vote on whether or not to move an ordinance forward,” Means said. “It’s not the usual process.”

However Walton insisted the transcripts were available and creating a special committee was well within the council president’s rights under rules of council. Furthermore, he insisted throughout the process there would be absolute transparency.

“The key to all of this is transparency across the spectrum,” Walton said. “We are going to use the rules to ensure that all members of council have a voice.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Pittsburgh. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at atiya@mypls.com.

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