Start over: Pittsburghers deserve a representative police board

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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has thrown gas on a fire by trying to change the composition of the Citizen Police Review Board just as the panel is engaged in a court fight with his administration over police reports from last fall's G-20 summit.

The review board was established by a referendum to investigate citizen complaints about improper police conduct, and its seven members are appointed by the mayor and City Council for four-year terms. The terms of all the members have expired, some as long ago as 2007, and three of them no longer live in the city, a requirement for membership.

Valid, current appointments were needed for the board, as the mayor has said. However, timing can be everything and choosing to submit his nominations just as a judge was presiding over a hearing at which the board asked to hold Police Chief Nate Harper in contempt was a mistake.

The board is to be made up of three individuals selected by the mayor and four others named by council. The mayor is free to choose his nominees, but selecting council's candidates is where the process fell apart. The mayor, council and the review board itself share the blame.

First, the review board is supposed to notify council formally when vacancies occur. Next, council members have 30 days to approve a list of three names to be considered for each vacancy and then send them to the mayor. None of that happened this time around.

Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger did send a letter telling council that the terms of the four members had expired, but members had stayed on and no notification of vacancies were sent by the board. Then some council members individually submitted names to the mayor, but the majority of council did not and no formal action was taken on the candidates.

Finally, the mayor's timing gives the impression the moves are retaliatory and, in an interview, he said he was hoping new members would be "more independent" and "more vocal."

The solution here is to start the process over so citizens can have confidence in their own police review board.


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