Pittsburgh City Council wavers on domestic violence

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Pittsburgh City Council will consider throwing out legislation that established a zero tolerance policy in the city code for domestic violence in the police department.

The city law department has recommended police administration deal with the issue at the departmental level because it is difficult to enforce in the code, Councilman Ricky Burgess said Wednesday. Mr. Burgess set off a heated debate when he included the change in a series of last-minute amendments he proposed to a package of bills to deal with police response to domestic violence.

After two hours of discussion, council agreed to separate the two issues and hold off action on the bills until next week.

Under the zero tolerance code, a police officer can be fired if he is convicted of domestic violence, but other employees are subject to discipline that could include dismissal, said Wendy Kobee, an assistant city solicitor. She told council that the city lost the only case in which it tried to fire an officer when an arbitrator overturned the dismissal on what she called "a technicality" because the code didn't apply to all employees.

As a result, the department is recommending removing the language from the city code, Ms. Kobee said. Zero tolerance also has the unintended impact of discouraging victims from turning someone in for domestic violence if it would mean losing the family income or health insurance, she said.

Several council members were unhappy the changes were brought up at the last minute and without discussion with the committee of women's groups and public safety personnel developing the domestic violence legislation. Councilman Bill Peduto, who helped write the zero tolerance language, was particularly upset and walked out of the meeting after a confrontation with Ms. Kobee in which he called her a "liar."

After the meeting, Mr. Peduto said he was upset that the issue came to council "haphazardly" as part of the other bills and that it would be "morally wrong" to consider changing it without input from women's groups.

The bills Mr. Burgess proposed would require all police officers to get special training for responding to domestic violence calls based on a system developed in Maryland, and also set up a Domestic Violence Advisory Board. He said he was satisfied with the domestic violence bills and code change on zero tolerance moving ahead separately.

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


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