Pittsburgh council delays action on police training bills

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Pittsburgh City Council held legislation today that would mandate domestic violence training for police officers and explore policy changes, a proposal introduced in the wake of the slaying of a Larimer woman who called 911 before she was killed by her boyfriend.

Ka'Sandra Wade, 33, was found shot to death in her Larimer apartment Jan. 1, less than 24 hours after officers responded to a disconnected 911 call placed from her cell phone. The officers left after speaking to her boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, 51, who told them through a window that everything was fine. The next day Brown confessed to killing Ms. Wade and then killed himself in a standoff with police.

The two bills, sponsored by Councilman Ricky Burgess and introduced last week, touched off a turbulent discussion over whether police staffing levels or police policy were at the heart of the matter.

Councilman Patrick Dowd, who voted against the city budget because of his concern over the number of police in the city, said Mr. Burgess' bill was misguided.

"I do not think that issues that we're looking at ... can be solved merely with a policy change," he said. "Ultimately what needs to change, is, I believe, not the policies [but] what's happening on the ground in Zone 5."

He cited a number of statistics that showed the zone, which encompasses his district and the eastern part of the city, is the busiest and most violent. But it's also the "least experienced," he said, pointing out there are only seven sergeants, who serve as supervisors, in the zone. Other zones are staffed with eight.

On the night Wade called police, "if there is a mistake, and I'm not saying there is yet, I bet it was that the officers should have probably called their supervisors."

Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. have said the two officers did not contact their supervisor before leaving Wade's home.

Mr. Dowd characterized what he saw as a dearth of supervisors in Zone 5 as "a management problem" and said the city either needs to hire more officers or distribute them throughout the city differently.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith shot back that she believed Mr. Dowd's criticism was political.

"I don't think this is an issue [where] we should worry about playing politics," she said.

The two bills were held for six weeks while a working group is assembled to formulate recommendations that will shape the policy. The legislation would institute the Lethality Assessment Program, a program designed in Maryland, with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

The program guides officers to ask domestic violence victims a series of questions to determine their level of risk of being killed or seriously injured by their partner. Depending on their answers, officers are instructed to have the victims call a domestic violence hotline or to call on their behalf. The program would cost $25,000, according to the legislation.

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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