City bill aims at domestic violence

Brass would review cases of abuse by police officers

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In what could be the first of several bills pertaining to domestic violence allegations against Pittsburgh police, City Council President Doug Shields yesterday proposed an ordinance that would compel a review of all reports of family violence by officers, but wouldn't ban promotion of the accused.

The proposal got mixed reactions from advocates for women.

"It's the first piece of this," Mr. Shields said of the eight-page bill. "It's not going to stop here."

He said the ordinance would codify the International Association of Chiefs of Police model policy on handling allegations of domestic violence by police.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he's "certainly very supportive of that," adding that in June, he promised women's advocates that the city would adopt the policy.

Mr. Shields' legislation reiterates federal law barring officers convicted of domestic violence crimes from possessing firearms, meaning they would be fired. If an officer was the subject of a protection-from-abuse petition or order, which does not require the accuser to meet a high burden of proof, police leadership would review his or her duty assignment and employment.

"We should be looking at every incident," Mr. Shields said, noting that city policy does not seem to require investigation and tracking of all family abuse accusations against officers, even when they involve protection orders.

But Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said she found Mr. Shields' bill lacking.

An effective ordinance "has to be more explicit in its expectation of employee conduct, and it has to be more explicit in the consequences," Ms. Pittinger said.

Also lacking, she said, was language dealing with officers who are subjects of protection orders but have not been charged with crimes.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has found that 35 city officers have been the subjects of protection orders, and some are allowed to carry firearms while on duty.

Under the proposal, enhanced background checks of officer candidates would be required, as would interview questions aimed at eliciting information about any past domestic violence. Any candidate "with a history of perpetuating violence" would not be hired, and the bureau would "strongly consider" not hiring candidates with "tendencies indicative of abusive behavior," according to the proposed ordinance.

That wording struck some women's advocates as short of the mark.

"Any city department faced with a potential hire who has tendencies indicative of abusive behavior should not hire that person, period," said Gloria Forouzan, founder of Run, Baby, Run, an effort to involve more women in politics.

The issue of domestic violence was brought to the fore by the June 18 promotions of three police officers with histories of domestic abuse allegations. The proposal does not ban the hiring or promotion of officers who have faced domestic abuse allegations, an omission which Ms. Forouzan called "unbelievable."

"I'm not going to let perfect be the enemy of the good," said Jeanne Clark of the National Organization for Women, who called Mr. Shields' plan a good start.

Mr. Shields said promotions would be the subject of his next piece of legislation on the topic. He said he may seek a public hearing before a vote.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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