City of Pittsburgh revises domestic abuse policy

The latest proposal eliminates mandatory firings

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Experts on domestic violence Monday emphasized the need to provide prevention and intervention services as Pittsburgh city officials backed off a proposal to terminate any employee convicted of abuse.

In January, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl proposed a "zero tolerance" policy that would have terminated any employee convicted of domestic violence. The city has had a similar policy for police officers since 2007.

However, the proposal to expand the policy to other workers drew concern from women's rights groups and others, who suggested that the potential loss of a mate's income would dissuade some victims from seeking help.

Mr. Ravenstahl formed a task force to retool the policy, and a modified version was rolled out at a Pittsburgh City Council post-agenda meeting Monday.

In place of the mandatory termination language, the new draft says employees convicted of domestic violence "may be subject to discipline up to and including termination."

The term "zero tolerance," which appeared in the initial bill, also was absent from the draft circulated Monday. Instead, the new version cited the city's "unequivocal position against domestic violence."

Both versions targeted employees convicted of offenses involving force and deadly weapons.

Task force members said additional changes may be made before the bill is introduced at a council meeting today.

"I am pleased to see this ordinance going forward for all employees of the city of Pittsburgh," said Shirl Regan, executive director of the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

Ms. Regan, one of those Mr. Ravenstahl consulted, emphasized the need to provide services to employees who are abusive at home.

"What we know is that if violence is not stopped in the early stages, it will continue to escalate," she said.

Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania and another of those who offered input on the ordinance, said the city can develop a culture of zero tolerance for domestic violence without firing every worker who's convicted of abuse.

Zero tolerance, she said, is not the same as "one strike and you're out."

"Promoting prevention should be at the heart of your program," she said.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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