Slaying after 911 call leads to efforts for change

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Two-and-a-half weeks after the killing of Ka'Sandra Wade, the calls for new legislation and a review of police protocol are growing following revelations that police responded to a 911 call at her Larimer home a day before she was found dead.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Thursday proposed a working group to review current policies. His announcement came two days after Councilman Ricky Burgess proposed legislation requiring new training and six days after Action United, Wade's employer, announced a focus group to put together legislation.

Wade, a 33-year-old mother, dialed 911 on New Year's Eve, but the call was disconnected after an emergency operator heard a commotion. Officers responded to Wade's home but left after her boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, 51, turned them away. Later during a standoff, Brown told police he killed her and suggested in a note that they could have saved her. He later committed suicide.

The incident has raised questions about how police handle disconnected 911 calls. Public Safety Director Mike Huss and the police bureau have pledged to investigate thoroughly.

In the meantime, Mr. Ravenstahl announced his plans to convene a working group with community stakeholders to review current bureau policies as they pertain to domestic violence calls. Although Wade's call to 911 was classified as "unknown trouble," Brown had a history of threatening her, friends said.

"In the wake of this event, the family, friends and co-workers of the victim have expressed a desire to review existing laws and to recommend new laws and regulations in an effort to ensure incidents like this never happen again," the mayor wrote in a letter to city council Thursday.

"I propose that this group conducts a comprehensive review of best practices from around the country. ... This study will focus on efforts to both curb domestic violence, as well as the way officers interact with the public during individual encounters."

Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said police would be part of the group.

"Members of the [Pittsburgh Bureau of Police] will be part of the work group and will be a key component in the planning, training and application of any change of our current procedures," he said.

Joanna Doven, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said invitations also would be sent to women's groups.

On Tuesday, Mr. Burgess introduced legislation that would require the police bureau to receive training in the Lethality Assessment Program, a protocol piloted in Maryland that standardizes how police interact with domestic violence victims. In some cases, it calls for them to give the victim a questionnaire to determine their risk for homicide or serious injury. If the risk is serious, the protocol calls for the officer to encourage the victim to seek help through a domestic violence hotline and, in some cases, places the call for the victim.

On Saturday, Action United staged a rally and announced its intention to start a focus group of domestic violence victims to formulate recommendations for a new law. They planned to write new legislation with the help of the Women's Law Project and name it "Ka'Sandra's Law."

Maryellen Deckard of Action United said she was incredulous that the mayor and councilman upstaged the group and she accused them of undermining its grass-roots effort to develop legislation based on the input of victims of domestic violence. She worried that the group's voice would be "diluted" in a working group setting.

Ms. Deckard said she plans to ask Mr. Burgess to table the bill until the community process plays out.

"The city really should be listening to women about these issues and affected women most of all," she said. "The way to do that is to let us continue our process without interference."

Mr. Burgess said he intends to make Action United a part of the process. In addition to police, he plans to invite the Fraternal Order of Police, the city Law Department and service providers to victims of domestic violence to the working group to formulate recommendations. Those recommendations will then be taken back to advocacy groups, like Action United, for input.

"I'm looking for this process to be inclusive, not exclusive," he said.

The mayor said he welcomes input from all members of the community, including Action United.

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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