Crime stopper: A worthy effort seeks to build citizen trust in police

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A group trying to improve interactions between police and the people they protect doesn't point to one specific incident that caused relations to deteriorate. Many factors were to blame for creating mistrust and suspicion.

Likewise, the group probably won't be able to point to a single moment when things get better. But, under the direction of David J. Hickton, the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, the 40-member Community-Police Working Group intends to try, with a methodical approach to tearing down barriers and building bridges.

Mr. Hickton started the effort in May 2011, meeting with neighborhood and civil rights advocates before bringing in police and union leaders from the city, Allegheny County and federal law enforcement. After 15 sessions, and some heated back and forth, the parties agreed to focus on broad goals of improving public safety, respecting law enforcement and following the Constitution. Members of the group include Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his police chief, as well as other police brass and representatives from the region's major rights organizations.

The group already can point to some improvements it made working behind the scenes: a public safety plan at a North Side public housing community, training for city police and intervention to ease racial tensions between Monessen and Brentwood high schools.

Now the group is kicking off a six-month public initiative. The first step will be a community survey on relations with police, and it is important that as many citizens participate as possible. Public meetings this winter will follow and a larger session will take place in April to discuss specific ideas for action.

A high-powered crisis management team, charged with squelching rumors and defusing tensions, includes Allegheny County Sheriff Bill Mullen, city police Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant, Urban League CEO Esther Bush, a pastor and a minister from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

The key to long-term success is widespread involvement and trust, a two-way street that can result in safer streets in Pittsburgh and nearby towns.

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