Peters revises police complaint procedure

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After receiving several complaints this year about police conduct, Peters council members on Monday voted unanimously to revise the township's policy governing citizen complaints against police.

The new citizen complaint policy streamlines procedures for investigation and notification and adds a new layer of appeal for those who are unsatisfied with in-house investigations completed by the department.

The complaints will continue to be investigated by police Chief Harry Fruecht or one of his appointees, but township manager Michael Silvestri will hear appeals and will notify council of appeals.

Previously, only police officers had the right to appeal to Mr. Silvestri.

In an appeal, Mr. Silvestri will conduct his own investigation to determine whether to uphold or reverse Chief Fruecht's decision, and he will use a third party, such as state police, to assist with investigations, if necessary.

Resident Ron Boocks asked that an independent arbitrator be assigned to hear appeals to assure "a fair and reasonably unbiased examination of the situation," and to stem litigation costs, but council members said they didn't want to subject employees and others to binding arbitration.

"It's a good first step in improving the process," councilwoman Monica Merrell said of the new policy.

Council began debating the issue after some residents questioned the judgment of several township police officers, including two who were accused of illegally hunting deer on the grounds of a local cemetery and another who was outside his jurisdiction when he allegedly drew his weapon on a pair of licensed hunters who were legally fox hunting in North Strabane earlier this year.

It remains unclear why the officer was answering a call in North Strabane, which employs its own police force.

Chief Fruecht responded to a complaint from one of the hunters, Steven Stiegel of Bethel Park, in a letter saying that he thoroughly investigated the complaint and had "established that the conduct of the concerned employee was not contrary to department policy but disclosed training issues that will be addressed department wide."

The controversy spawned a federal civil rights lawsuit from Mr. Stiegel, who felt he was unfairly treated and threatened without cause. The hunters and several residents asked the township to develop a citizen review board or similar vehicle to address complaints.

The police department and several of its officers also were sued in federal court Aug. 16 by an Oakdale man who said officers violated his civil rights when they arrested him in November for driving his new Dodge truck through the front showroom window of Vasko Dodge after a dispute over customer service.

Robert E. Snatchko Jr., 54, said he lost his job over the charges, which included terroristic threats, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. In his lawsuit, Mr. Snatchko said he unintentionally crashed the truck into the building because he failed to make sure it was in park before leaving the vehicle.

Also Monday, council unanimously approved a new four-year collective bargaining agreement with the union representing 14 public works and park employees.

Retroactive to May 1, the new pact with the Construction, General Laborers and Material Handlers Local 1058 calls for annual raises of about 2.5 percent, a requirement that all union members participate in the township's health care plan and an option for the township to hire more part-time workers.

The township has been negotiating with the union since January. The new contract will expire April 30, 2016.

Council members also decided to rescind a ban on metal spikes at the township's new, $1.2 million athletic field in Peterswood Park.

Last month, council voted to ban the use of metal spikes in favor of ceramic spikes by Peters Township School District cross country team members, but members reversed the decision after hearing from coaches and others who assured them that the metal spikes would not void a warranty on the artificial turf field.

Instead, council will limit the length of spikes to three eighths of an inch.

neigh_south - neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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