Pittsburgh police handling of calls disturbing to two groups

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Two organizations met separately Tuesday night to discuss what they described as a growing concern about the way Pittsburgh police have handled recent calls.

Featured prominently at a Citizen Police Review Board meeting and a news conference held by the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP was the death of Ka'Sandra Wade.

Ms. Wade was found shot to death in her Larimer apartment Jan. 1, less than 24 hours after officers responded to a disconnected 911 call placed from her cell phone.

The officers left after speaking to her boyfriend Anthony L. Brown, 51, who told them through a window that everything was fine. The next day Brown confessed to killing Ms. Wade and then killed himself in a standoff with police.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the CPRB, presented a draft of 12 policy recommendations to three members of the board, which did not meet a quorum.

"Many questions emerged from this incident regarding protocols for police responses to various types of calls," the draft of the policy recommendation stated.

Ms. Pittinger said she would like to see the bureau create a policy for handling unknown trouble calls that is as well-defined as those for handling domestic violence calls and other calls of a serious nature.

The draft contained policy recommendations such as optional and voluntary enrollment of a victim of domestic violence's phone number with 911; development of protocol for responding to calls dispatched as unknown trouble; police recruit training in the 911 center, as well as dispatchers participating in ride-alongs with police; and intensive training in domestic violence for officers, call takers and dispatchers conducted by experts in domestic violence.

Board member Emma Lucas Darby called the recommendations "critically important."

In addition, Ms. Pittinger said the board plans to review the circumstances surrounding a police chase that began in Homestead earlier this month and ended with five off-duty police officers firing their weapons in the South Side.

The driver, Donald Burris Jr., 32, of Carnegie, who was wounded, is scheduled to appear in court this morning for a preliminary hearing related to the chase. His mother, Lena Davenport, 49, of Wilkinsburg, was critically injured.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Pittsburgh chapter president Constance Parker, along with three local attorneys, announced the re-emergence of a Legal Redress Committee.

The committee will provide both a referral service and a redress office, Attorney Milton Raiford said, adding that people can lodge complaints with the committee or may call to have a lawyer assigned to them.

Mr. Raiford said pressing issues facing Pittsburgh's black community include the death of Ms. Wade, officers firing in the South Side and the Nov. 11 shooting of Leon Ford by an officer in Highland Park.

Mrs. Parker said each of these instances "absolutely" contributed to the committee's re-emergence.

Mr. Raiford also discussed concerns facing black men -- from "pretext stops," which he said are minor traffic violations police cite to pull people over that often lead to arrests, to "disproportional" numbers of black men in the county jail.

Mrs. Parker said she looks to address more issues from a legal standpoint.

"We've burned enough candles. ... We have marched enough," Mrs. Parker said.

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Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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