In policing, the information reveals city-wide positive aspects, however room for enchancment

It’s no surprise that policing is a central theme in Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s bid for a third term. Protests against police misconduct in Pittsburgh and across the country came to a head on his porch in August. Activists called for answers on the way police reacted to previous demonstrations, arrested protesters and used so-called less lethal tactics to disperse the crowd.

After a violent exchange, Peduto went inside and the police broke up the protesters. But the problem itself has gone nowhere. However, a look at the Bureau of Police’s annual reports and other annual data collected by the city suggests that Peduto has in many ways improved the way the city monitors its streets … though the numbers show that some problems remain unsolved.

When Peduto took office in 2014, there were an average of more than 15,000 arrests a year, according to police reports. Since then, the number of annual arrests has steadily decreased; In 2019, Pittsburgh Police made 9,500 arrests, a decrease of a third over that period.

The number of arrests has decreased across all racial groups, but the rate of decline has been slower for black arrests. As a result, blacks are still the majority of those arrested. In fact, they make up a larger proportion – over 60 percent of just over half – of those arrested.

State representative Ed Gainey, who is challenging Peduto for the Democratic nomination for mayor in the spring primary election, said a major reason black residents are arrested is because police spend more time in black neighborhoods than necessary.

“There’s a stop sign at the end of my street. I was pulled over 11 or 12 times because they said I didn’t stay at the stop sign long enough, ”he said. “Over-policing in neighborhoods is a problem. The [arrest] The numbers have gone down, but the percentages in our communities are so high because this is ultimately a target area. “

Gainey said if elected he would pull police out of high-police areas, particularly black and brown neighborhoods.

Councilor Ricky Burgess, an ally of Peduto, has proposed a number of police reform bills. But he said what really drives the numbers is economic inequality.

“As long as there are black people in Pittsburgh who are disproportionately poor and living disproportionately large in needy and vulnerable communities, there will be more criminal behavior,” said Burgess. “Because that’s just the recipe. Placing poor people in poor places with no comfort and no hope leads to crime. “

Burgess and Peduto have worked together to address the disproportionate number of arrests and crime in general. Initiatives include the Stop The Violence Fund, which works with city guides and community organizers to combat and prevent violence, especially in color communities.

“I will argue that while we were mayor we were one of the most progressive cities in the whole country,” said Burgess. “We brought a lot of training with us, we transferred money from the police to the community services … we did almost everything in our power.”

Last year, Peduto set up a police reform task force made up of educators, public health experts and nonprofit organizers. The body found that arrest dates show clear racial differences, which, according to the group, indicate “the existence of racial discrimination.” They also recommended that the department “identif[y] all racial differences in their routine actions ”and draw up specific plans to eliminate differences within a year.

When asked about the higher percentage of black people arrested, the mayor’s office responded in a statement that violent crime and murder rates across the city have fallen significantly since 2014, from 2,434 to 1,327 in 2020. The city also said the murders were around 28 percent have fallen. from 71 in 2014 to 51 in 2020, and they have tripled the number of civil servants who focus on community engagement, violence prevention, and community health and safety.

“[Neighborhood Resource Officers] were taken to neighborhoods identified by the boss and the community to serve as strike policemen, ”the statement said. “[T]You will become part of the community to build trust, which will help prevent crime and identify problem areas early on. “

“These initiatives are all aimed at reducing police interactions and arrests. The US must address reform of the systemic criminal justice system. We have done a lot, but much more needs to be done to ensure that we address disproportionate arrests. “

“You have broadened your view”

While last summer’s protests re-raised concerns about police tactics, data over the past few years show no significant increase in complaints. For one, the Citizen Police Review Board saw a steady decline in complaints during Peduto’s first three years in office, when Cameron McLay was chief. The numbers have risen slightly since then under Chef Scott Schubert, and there was an increase in complaints in 2020. However, Audit Committee executive Beth Pittnger said they have declined significantly overall since 2008. She cited a cultural change in the police office as one of the reasons.

“They broadened their view of law enforcement [is] and how law enforcement should be practiced in the City of Pittsburgh. It made a huge difference, ”she said. “[Police Chief Scott] Schubert held officers accountable where he can … where they can be disciplined, and he did it quickly. “

The city also handles complaints through the Department of Local Investigations, its internal affairs department. The number of OMI cases has remained constant with an average of 171 cases per year. Most of the complaints, according to the office, have to do with verbal interactions of the officers with the public.

“It’s the most common, it’s not the use of violence, bias or racial behavior,” said Bob Swartzwelder, president of the Fraternal Police Force, the union that represents the city’s 900 or so officials. “It is the officer who is rude. It’s been pretty consistent for five years. “

A common solution to police-community distrust is to prioritize racial and ethnic diversity in the police force. But the Peduto administration, like other governments before, has struggled to do this.

According to the latest available figures, in 2019 black officers made up about 12 percent of the division – roughly half of their share of the city’s population – while white officers made up about 85 percent.

Over the years the city has made numerous efforts to increase the pool of applicants, and police records show that the city receives numerous applications from non-white applicants. For example, in 2018 the city received 112 out of 608 applications from people who identified themselves as racial minorities. But the next year there were only 6 total black and Latin American officers out of a total of 89 recruits.

Swartzwelder said the application process takes anywhere from 12 to 18 months, “and a lot of people drop out before they see it completely.” And he says that even when black officers are hired, they often move to other departments because other communities “value what they bring: talent, qualifications and meeting diversity requirements”.

Gainey says a simple solution would be to use the force’s black officers to reach out to other candidates.

“We need to start a recruiting program to talk about how we can add more African American, Latin American, Asian and LGBTQ police officers to our armed forces,” Gainey said. “We need to make sure that the police department reflects the communities in which we live.”

The Peduto administration states that it had already adopted a mentoring program in 2017 and plans to expand it with the help of community engagement officers. The police bureau is also working with historically black colleges and universities to recruit and has launched a Public Safety Academy program at the predominantly Black Westinghouse Academy to encourage students to train as first responders. The aim of the program, according to the administration, is to create “a pipeline” of talent for future recruitment.

Some critics say that ultimately the answer is less police.

1Hood Media activist and CEO Jasiri X invests too much money in policing and not enough in initiatives that address disparities like the Mayor’s Office of Equity, whose mission is to promote the city across racial and economic lines to make away more livable.

The city’s budget for 2021 goes over $ 106 million to the police force, while just $ 1.3 million goes to the Office of Equity. The city realizes that it supports justice in another way: Through the $ 5 million Stop the Violence funding, the city intends to support public health and violence prevention.

However, these efforts are unlikely to satisfy critics like Jasiri.

“Half the black population in Pittsburgh is swaying with poverty and barely getting through, but as a city, 30 cents for every dollar we spend goes to the police,” he said. “And these cops are by nature not there to protect [Black people]. As if the city actually has money, enough to provide resources that our community desperately needs but is spending on the police. ”

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