What’s a good police chief? Pittsburgh residents have their say

At the first of six forums allowing Pittsburgh residents to tell officials what they want in the next police chief, some Zone 2 residents expressed a desire for a visible chief who will be willing to get to know the city and instill a sense of integrity in the department.

During the "deliberative democracy forum," 50-some attendees broke into random, diverse groups of about eight people to discuss experiences and share concerns about the zone that encompasses Downtown, the Hill District and Lawrenceville. They met Thursday night at the Teamster Temple on Butler Street.

Leigh Halverson, the mayor’‍s deputy chief of staff, said that larger town-hall style meetings may not always allow people to fully express themselves, but forums such as Thursday night’‍s provide residents an opportunity to learn and to be actively engaged.

"Too often, regular people don't get a voice, and this process is designed to do exactly that," said David Harris, one of 10 members on the committee screening candidates for the chief‘‍s position and a University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor.

Before the session began Thursday night, acting public safety director Stephen A. Bucar told the gathering: "I don't want you to be bashful. Roll your sleeves up. Tell us what you want in your police chief."

The residents responded.

Glenn Seals, 56, of the Hill District said the chief should have an open mind, be a good judge of character and be able to recognize racism.

Will Bernstein, 33, of Lawrenceville said the chief should lead the department in actively engaging citizens and deploy more officers on foot and bicycle.

"It's important that there not be that wall of metal and glass between people and police officers," he said.

Becky Thatcher, 33, of Lawrenceville said under the new leader, she wants to see the bureau move toward more community-oriented policing, asking, "What happened to the day when you actually knew the names of your community's police officers?"

Mr. Harris said he expects to hear similar concerns and desires across the city.

Public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said the forums are an important step in "repairing the relationship between the city government and citizens."

Others in the audience agreed. Independent Citizen Police Review Board Review executive director Elizabeth Pittinger said the sessions could inspire increased communication between residents and police. And for officers, Mr. Harris said it‘ was important for them to see that the community they serve appreciates them and cares about the work they do.

City residents are encouraged to attend their zone's meeting, though they may attend any forum, all of which will follow the same format. Meetings will be held at 6 p.m. and tentative locations are as follows:

• Monday, Greenway Middle School, 1400 Crucible St. (Zone 6)

• July 8, The Kingsley Association, 6435 Frankstown Ave. (Zone 5)

• July 16, South Hills Senior Residence, 125 Ruth St. (Zone 3)

• July 24, Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, 907 Middle St. (Zone 1)

• July 22, Jewish Community Center, 5738 Forbes Ave. (Zone 4)

Attendees, as well as those who are unable to make the sessions, can submit additional feedback at pittsburghpa.mindmixer.com.

Data from zone forums will be compiled on a weekly basis, Ms. Halverson said. Online feedback will also be woven in, and a final, overall report will be compiled and provide the selection committee with concerns from individual zones, as well as insight into overarching concerns and issues, she said.

The search for a chief comes after former Chief Nate Harper was forced to resign in February 2013 amid a federal investigation. Acting chief Regina McDonald has run the Pittsburgh police bureau since.

Mayor Bill Peduto, who did not attend the forum, had said he wished to hire a public safety director before a permanent police chief because he wanted the director to have input. Mr. Bucar, who is awaiting city council approval, began work in an acting capacity June 9.

Applications for police chief are due July 31 and will be vetted by the screening committee before being passed on to Mr. Peduto and Mr. Bucar.

Mr. Bucar said in a chief, he wants someone with “proven experience dealing with diverse communities and promoting inspiration to those in the department and setting examples of how to treat the public and how to be professional. … If I’‍m a police offcer, I want to be proud of that police chief. I want the community to do the same thing.”

Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. Stephanie McFeeters: smcfeeters@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @mcfeeters.

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