U.S. Attorney David Hickton called tonight for a summit of youth and law enforcement, a return to police foot patrols and enhanced witness protection at a meeting meant to take a two-year consensus effort to a new phase.
"We need to come up with relationships," Mr. Hickton said, "because relationships will trump stereotypes."
The Community-Police Relations Forum that Mr. Hickton launched in part to heal wounds from the 2010 Jordan Miles incident held its first open meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Complex on the South Side. It came on the heels of a series of shootings that Mr. Hickton described as "an epidemic of random community violence" and "an epidemic of violence against police officers."
Starting with closed-door, no-holds-barred sessions between neighborhood advocates and police brass in 2011, the effort progressed to surveys, four meetings with neighborhood representatives, and the creation of a crisis team meant to "squelch speculation, reduce tension and deliver facts," as Mr. Hickton put it. He said the team had not been activated in relation to the recent shootings.
The forum attracted a broad range of city, county, federal and suburban law enforcement officials, plus Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Councilman Bruce Kraus. The most poignant voices, though, were those of the high school students who were asked to talk about young peoples' attitudes toward police.
"You see cops, and they're basically interrogating you about little petty things, and there's no trust at all," said Marqua Geter, 18, of McKees Rocks. Police "have to show love, because, growing up in our community, all you see is a lot of people being put down."
"We don't actually get to know who they are unless we do something wrong or something is going on," said Samuel Richardson, a senior at East Allegheny High School.
Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. RaShall Brackney related a successful effort to reduce violence in East Hills, built on one-on-one meetings with neighborhood leaders and between police and law-respecting citizens.
And Witold Walczak, American Civil Liberties Union state legal director, estimated that "not more than 5 percent of police officers are the ones creating maybe 95 percent of the problems" with community relations.
Mr. Hickton said his suggestions don't require more money.
"We could identify poor communities in the city where we could try a new method of doing things, which would really be going back to the way we used to do it," by putting police on beats, rather than just responding to emergencies.
He said witness protection could also be enhanced with existing funds. The group intends to hold a community development workshop and neighborhood listening sessions in June.
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord