Pittsburgh officials Wednesday released a new policy barring some police officers with controversial backgrounds from evaluating potential recruits -- five days after council members and citizen groups raised concerns.
But while one councilwoman called the policy a "good start," the one-page document received mixed reviews, and its impact was uncertain on the group of officers slated to begin evaluating academy candidates next week.
The policy governing how officers should be allowed to participate on oral boards panels -- which question those seeking to become police officers -- is the first of its kind. It was drafted in response to concerns first reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which publicly revealed that among the 56 full-time panelists and alternates selected to hear oral exams were a commander currently under internal investigation, an officer accused in the Jordan Miles civil suit, a sergeant whose allegations of excessive force on other officers were settled in court and others with controversial pasts.
Acting police Chief Regina McDonald said through spokeswoman Diane Richard that the bureau is "now reviewing the list of officers who volunteered to serve on the Oral Boards and will remove any officer who does not meet the standards. This process is not expected to be completed until [Thursday] afternoon."
Under the new policy, officers serving on the board must have at least seven years of experience working in the Pittsburgh police bureau and must not:
l Currently be the subject of an inquiry by the city Office of Municipal Investigations "for conduct that may result in criminal charges."
l Have criminal charges pending in the court system.
l Be under monitoring by the police bureau, something public safety director Michael Huss said happens when an officer's supervisor spots a troubling pattern of behavior in him or her.
l Have been disciplined as a result of a serious, sustained OMI investigation in the past 10 years.
l Have been arrested for domestic violence or had a permanent protection-from-abuse order filed against him or her within the past 10 years.
l Have been subject to internal bureau discipline within the past 10 years.
l Have been the subject of a lawsuit "which resulted in a jury conviction against an officer" within the past 10 years.
Mr. Huss said, "This policy is put together so that we make sure that the folks interviewing people have the utmost character."
Others, however, found it lacking.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said, "Isn't this full of ambiguities? It looks to me like it was very hastily put together."
Ms. Pittinger said she was confused by language that prohibited an officer from serving if he had been "convicted" in a lawsuit, when people are generally found liable in civil suits and convicted only in criminal cases. Mr. Huss declined to clarify that matter Wednesday night.
She said she thought it strange that an officer who was arrested for domestic violence within the past 10 years but cleared of the charges would be prohibited from hearing the exams and also wondered why some people under internal investigation could serve if the bureau did not think the inquiries would result in criminal charges.
"That's a bit of a limitation there that I'm not real comfortable with," she said. "I think if there's an open investigation there for any kind of questionable conduct that person should not be considered at this point."
City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, chairwoman of the public safety committee, called the policy a "good start" after being provided with a copy by a reporter.
Ms. Kail-Smith has had several discussions with Mr. Huss about the situation. She said she is interested in seeing how the policy is applied to the current list of oral board panelists.
Ms. Kail-Smith said she was disappointed that the police bureau was reactive rather than proactive in this situation.
She also was critical of Chief McDonald.
"I'm thankful that [Mr. Huss] responded, but I think it's unfortunate that it came to the point where the director had to make a decision," Ms. Kail-Smith said. "I feel this is something that the acting chief should have been able to address ... My concern from the very beginning was her lack of judgment."
The chief did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.
Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle expressed disappointment that the policy did not contain provisions for ensuring diversity on the panel.
He also said it fell short by not fostering civilian participation.
Mr. Lavelle noted that while the policy mandates that officers have clearance from their commanding officer and be free from various blemishes on their records, it does not call for additional vetting by any agency outside the police bureau.