Pittsburgh City Council pledges hearing for community input on qualities of next police chief

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A series of community groups this morning called on Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and other candidates for the office to take community input on the qualities the city's next police chief should have.

Tim Stevens, president of the Black Political Empowerment Project, called former police Chief Nate Harper's dismissal last week "a difficult moment" but said that gives the city an opportunity to hire a new chief who better serves community needs.

Mr. Ravenstahl named Regina McDonald interim chief and said he intends to look outside the department for Mr. Harper's permanent successor.

Community activists seek input on hiring of next police chief

Community activists met with City Council representatives to demand input on the hiring of Pittsburgh's next police chief. (Video by Nate Guidry; 2/27/2013)

Mr. Stevens was among a half-dozen community leaders who attended a press conference outside City Council chambers this morning.

The groups were successful in convincing City Council to hold a public hearing next Wednesday where they can express the qualities they want to see in a new chief.

The groups called on Mr. Ravenstahl and challengers Controller Michael Lamb and Councilman Bill Peduto to attend the hearing and listen to their preferences.

Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the federal investigation into possible fraud in the police bureau shows that it has been operating "like a runaway train" because of a lack of proper supervision.

The ACLU won a federal consent decree over the bureau in 1998 that cited officer misconduct. Mr. Walczak said incidents such as the Jordan Miles case in 2010 and off-duty officers firing bullets at a vehicle on the South Side in January show those problems may be returning.

Mr. Walczak said he does not believe it is necessary at this point to seek federal sanctions again. But it is important that management improves under the next chief, he said.

"This is a golden opportunity to avoid going back to court," he said. "This is the time to have this conversation."

Councilman Ricky Burgess, who has proposed a series of changes to police accountability and supports Mr. Ravenstahl's re-election, said it is important that the city make a good choice for the bureau's next chief. He stressed he would not vote for any current member of the department.

"What is most important is how we can develop a philosophy where the community is engaging as actual partners," he said.

Council President Darlene Harris acknowledged that council isn't directly involved in choosing the new chief, instead voting to confirm the mayor's selection.

She said she hopes Mr. Ravenstahl and the other candidates for mayor will pay attention to next week's hearing.

At today's City Council meeting, Councilman Patrick Dowd said he was "deeply troubled" that council would hold a hearing so quickly on hiring a new chief when he has been pushing for weeks for a meeting to discuss the deployment of officers, which he thinks isn't as good as it should be.

He said a hearing on the qualities needed in a new chief should wait until the federal investigation has been completed and there is a better understanding of the problems in the police bureau.

"How many of us understand the problems inside the bureau?" he asked. "I hope we don't hire a chief until we know what was going on."

Mr. Dowd said he has posted details of all of the moonlighting jobs worked by officers online so the public can see how many hours they are working and who is hiring them.

Details reported previously by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette show the department's officers work more than 200,000 hours a year of overtime on private outside security-type jobs.

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Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470.


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