Kail-Smith asks police to fix way panels are picked

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A Pittsburgh councilwoman has asked the Ravenstahl administration to take "corrective action" to address concerns about the makeup of panels that evaluate police recruits.

"I just said this cannot continue and it's unacceptable," Theresa Kail-Smith said Friday.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week that at least four of the 56 police officers who volunteered and were selected to grill police candidates orally had controversial pasts and one is under internal investigation.

"I insist that you take corrective action regarding this issue," said Ms. Kail-Smith, quoting part of an email she sent to the mayor, public safety director and police chief. "It's time that we send a message that this department is on the path to transparency and integrity which the bureau desires and the residents demand."

Public Safety Director Michael Huss said in an interview Saturday that he told Councilwoman Kail-Smith that he will look at the issue Monday morning and would decide what to do about it. He said that he and other public safety personnel were involved in swift-water rescue training all day Friday at McConnells Mill State Park in Lawrence County.

"I haven't had a chance to look at the list," noted Mr. Huss, who said he first learned about the controversy from a Post-Gazette reporter. "I understand the issue. I understand there is concern out there and rightfully so. [Councilwoman Kail-Smith] is frustrated and I understand why. I'll be taking a look at this Monday."

Ms. Kail-Smith, who chairs the public safety committee, said Friday she was awaiting a response from the mayor's office. She spoke Thursday with Mr. Huss upon learning from the Post-Gazette about the oral boards situation.

"I will say that I don't think that this is something that was approved by him," she said of Mr. Huss.

Ms. Kail-Smith said she was unsure why problems have cropped up again with the oral boards after the process was revamped 18 months ago. Then, civilians were participating in the interviewing of candidates until it was discovered that one was a convicted felon.

"Given the fact that there was concern the last time, and I was in a meeting where [Mr. Huss] and others had suggested strongly that they wanted a policy in place to make sure that this wasn't a concern for this year coming up, that we didn't repeat the mistakes of the past, why that wasn't done, I don't know," she said.

Ms. Kail-Smith placed blame on officials in the police bureau. She also acknowledged that she did not know the full histories of any of the officers with controversial pasts or Cmdr. Eric Holmes, who is under internal investigation for holding down a second full-time job in 2007-08 while a police sergeant.

"But it's the perception," she said, "They should have anticipated there would be some reaction."

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said he, too, had concerns about the composition of the panels. He said the officers administering the oral boards should be "free of all baggage."

Mr. Lavelle cited a statement made in 2011 by Mr. Huss after the discovery of problems with a civilian evaluator: "We can't have someone evaluating a future officer when their character is in question."

"If that's going to apply for civilians, it should truly, truly apply for police officers," Mr. Lavelle said.

Mr. Huss said Saturday he agreed with Mr. Lavelle and stands by his 2011 comment about a question of character.

"What I held to be true for civilian panelists will be the same standard that will be held for our people," he said.

Councilman Bill Peduto, the Democratic nominee for mayor, said he would like to re-examine the police bureau's entire recruitment process so that it falls in line with broadly accepted professional standards designed by organizations like RAND Corp. or the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

"There's a professional standard that is accepted by law enforcement that we are so far away from," he said Friday.

Mr. Peduto said this could mean adding non-police professionals to oral boards or eliminating them altogether.

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Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg. Michael A. Fuoco and Moriah Balingit contributed.


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