Police, community leaders work together to improve relations

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A group of police and community leaders that has been meeting behind closed doors for 18 months took its effort public today, launching a crisis team and announcing a six-month process for improving relations between law enforcement and residents.

Launched in response to tensions after Homewood resident Jordan Miles' 2010 encounter with three Pittsburgh officers, the Community-Police Working Group started with neighborhood advocates and civil rights voices, but came to include top brass from all levels of law enforcement. Nearly 20 members attended a press conference at the office of U.S. Attorney David Hickton, who convened the group.

The group's 15 meetings were "a chance for us to bring leadership together, to talk frankly about what has divided us," said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who has done research for the working group. "Now we're at the state of working to bring this out to the broader community."

That starts with a community survey on relations with the police, which will be available online and distributed through organizations. A series of public meetings will be held this winter in Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, McKees Rocks and the Mon Valley. A community conclave, at which ideas for improving relations between police and law enforcement will be aired, is set for April 11.

Effective immediately, police-civilian incidents will be addressed by a "crisis team" consisting of Pittsburgh Police Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant, Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen, Urban League CEO Esther Bush, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Vice President Rev. John Welch and Pastor Sheldon Williams of the Allegheny Center Alliance Church.

Mr. Hickton outlined a series of things the group has done, including helping to ease racial tensions between Monessen and Brentwood high schools after an incident at a basketball game; launching a multi-agency effort to improve public safety at the Allegheny Dwellings public housing community; and training city police in the legal nuances of excessive force and truthful reporting.

Police leaders, and their critics, seemed optimistic after the press event.

"We're all after the same goal, and the goal is to make it safer, eliminate the crime and quit letting the criminals divide the community," said Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper.

"It may not impact tomorrow specifically, but [the effort] will help generations to come," said Brandi Fisher, chairwoman of the Alliance for Police Accountability, "as long as people stay genuinely committed to the cause." breaking - region

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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