Two high-profile mishaps involving Pittsburgh police officers are enough to make the public wonder who's minding the store. Apparently it isn't Chief Nate Harper.
The discovery Jan. 1 of the body of Ka'Sandra Wade, who was shot to death after her 911 emergency call, and a Jan. 13 South Side incident in which five off-duty officers shot at a fleeing car on a crowded street have raised questions about police training.
But the chief has not been in the office since his mother died Jan. 15. Police received an email Thursday telling them that Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson will continue to act as chief during Mr. Harper's absence. The chief said Friday he would return on Monday.
A federal grand jury is probing how a former friend of the chief won a contract for the installation of radios in police cruisers. Mr. Harper said he has not testified before or received a target letter from the grand jury. On Jan. 19 Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the chief "has my full confidence."
Meanwhile, the Citizen Police Review Board and the Pittsburgh NAACP are raising valid questions about police response in the Ware and South Side cases. Both have called for changes the police bureau would be wise to consider.
The CPRB wants more training for 911 dispatchers on domestic violence, including ride-alongs with the police. In turn, police would receive more intensive training on domestic violence conducted by experts in the field; they also would get training at the 911 center. The review board also recommends voluntary enrollment of domestic violence victims' phone numbers in the 911 system and an upgrade in police protocol for responding to those calls.
Pittsburgh NAACP President Constance Parker announced the return of the Legal Redress Committee, a referral service that will take complaints filed by citizens about police and, in some cases, provide the services of a lawyer. The NAACP is concerned about the disproportionate number of "pretext stops" of black men.
Adoption of the CPRB recommendations and return of the Legal Redress Committee could boost public confidence and encourage greater vigilance, but, more than outside intervention, the Pittsburgh police needs strong, engaged leadership. That begins with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and whoever is serving as chief.