A policy proposal: Domestic violence ordinance needs more work

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City Council President Doug Shields has delivered a good start for the development of a comprehensive Police Bureau no-tolerance policy against domestic violence.

Mr. Shields' proposed ordinance acknowledges the need for an effective law enforcement response to domestic violence that takes the crime seriously. Specifically, it covers domestic abuse by officers, with language taken from a model of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It calls for a review of all current Police Bureau employees to determine whether any have convictions, which should have disqualified them from working as officers, or protection orders against them.

The most important thing it does is recommend against hiring police applicants who have engaged in or been investigated for domestic violence. Candidates will be asked about past arrests, suspended sentences, diversion programs, convictions and protection from abuse orders related to domestic violence, elder and child abuse, sexual assault and stalking. The policy says those who have a history of violence "should be screened out." If that means they can't get the job, we agree.

Psychological screenings, which are done on all candidates, would focus on abusive tendencies, and the policy would "strongly consider a no-hire decision" in such cases. Although that's exactly how the model policy is worded, the city must be tougher and reject those candidates, too. Hiring time is when the city has the most discretion, and it should use that upper hand.

Mr. Shields' legislation reiterates federal law barring officers convicted of domestic violence crimes from possessing firearms, meaning they would be fired. It should go further, so that officers who are named in protection-from-abuse petitions or orders temporarily would be reassigned and have their guns taken away. A Post-Gazette investigation has found that 35 city officers have been the subjects of protection orders since 1992.

Although attention was drawn to this issue by the June 18 promotions of three police officers with histories of domestic abuse allegations, Mr. Shields' proposal doesn't address the significant question of promotions. It should.

He says his bill is just the first on the topic, and that promotion rules and protocols for how officers should answer domestic violence calls will come later. He said he thinks it's important to get a policy adopted quickly, and the best way to do that was to start with the police chiefs model that's already been developed. We agree with the urgency and with his decision to use the model as a starting point, but it's important to get things right the first time. That's why we'd like to see stronger language on hirings, promotions and protection from abuse orders.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right.


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