Get tough: The city needs to curb domestic violence by police

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The Pittsburgh Police Bureau must have a no-nonsense, no-tolerance policy against domestic violence by its officers.

Each year, 1.5 million women in the United States are physically assaulted. Family violence is the most common cause of injury in 15- to 44-year-olds, and the families of police officers are not immune.

A Post-Gazette investigation showed that 34 city officers now on the job have been accused of stalking, threatening or verbally or physically abusing their spouses, partners or another family member. Add to that list three other such officers whose promotions this year touched off a public controversy and examination of how Pittsburgh deals with them.

Domestic violence is a serious problem, and Pittsburghers deserve a police command that takes it seriously. That wasn't the message Police Chief Nate Harper sent this summer when he promoted the trio of officers who had allegations of domestic abuse in their backgrounds. Nor did he sound like a man who had found religion on the topic when, at a City Council session Monday, he promised more training, written procedures for supervisors and administrative investigations to parallel criminal probes. That's not enough.

Council members fell down on the job, too, by failing to ask the chief tough questions and pin him down on just what he intends to do about hirings and promotions.

The best way to prevent police officers on the force from engaging in domestic violence is by refusing to hire such offenders in the first place. But Chief Harper hasn't committed to that.

An applicant for the city police force should have a clean record, and that includes "no arrests, suspended sentences, diversion programs, convictions or protection from abuse orders related to child abuse, sexual assault, stalking or domestic violence." That's what the International Association of Chiefs of Police says in its policy on domestic violence by police officers, and so should Pittsburgh. It ought to cover promotions, too. Add to the list a strict policy that takes officers' guns away when they are accused of domestic violence and a requirement that high-ranking supervisors respond to incidents at officers' homes.

The police chiefs association policy is eight pages long and it contains dozens of other prudent practices. Every one of them might not be right for Pittsburgh, but the ideas we've seen so far from Chief Harper aren't even close.

With firm regulations on handling all domestic abuse cases and tough rules prohibiting that conduct by its officers, the Pittsburgh Police Bureau could build the kind of trust that assures victims their calls for help will be treated fairly and seriously.


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