City police must divulge more details about cases
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After 18 months of debate, including one meeting at which the police union president performed a pat-down on the city's top legislator, Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill requiring the police department to share more information about stop-and-frisk encounters and other hot-button activities.
The bill was one of a handful of police-accountability measures that Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced following a Homewood teenager's violent encounter with three undercover officers on a Homewood street in January 2010. The final version bore not only Mr. Burgess' imprint but that of other council members, the police department, police union and civil-rights groups.
Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, called the compromise legislation a "near miracle." Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he will sign the bill into law.
"I am pleased that this important legislation received unanimous support from council members. I look forward to signing this bill, which will set the stage for further improving community-police relations and ultimately make Pittsburgh neighborhoods even safer," Mr. Ravenstahl said in a statement.
The bill expands the scope of the police department's annual report to the public.
From now on, the department must include the numbers of officers disciplined, sued, arrested and losing their certification each year, along with certain details about their cases; the number of strip searches and body cavity searches performed each year, along with details; the number of traffic stops in each police zone, broken down by race and gender of driver; and information about police pursuits, including why and where the chases occurred.
The department also must begin tracking stop-and-frisk encounters with pedestrians. The data must be broken down by age, gender and race of those stopped, along with information about why they were stopped.
The additional data collection will require software upgrades, and council pledged to provide ample funds.
The bill sought to balance the demands of police work with respect for civil liberties and concerns about racial profiling. In one compromise, the department agreed to hand out cards saying how pedestrians stopped on the street can file complaints if they believe they were treated inappropriately.
During debate over the bill, Mr. Burgess said, the police department expressed a need for additional patrol cars and other resources. He said civil-rights groups that worked on the bill now should lobby city officials to provide officers with the tools they need to do their jobs professionally.
"There has to be a partnership," Mr. Burgess said.
Brandi Fisher, chairwoman of the Alliance for Police Accountability, said the bill "is the first step in a process, a very long process, to bring the police and community into a more positive relationship."
Mr. Burgess previously pushed through legislation requiring the city to put video cameras in patrol cars, to complete the accreditation process as quickly as possible and to take a tougher stance with officers believed to have violated department policies. But the bill expanding the department's annual report to the public drew resistance from the police department and union.
It was on council's plate for 18 months, an unusually long time.
The parties forged a compromise during a series of what Mr. Stevens called "very detailed" meetings. Dan O'Hara, president of the police union, said that during one session he explained the value of pat-downs by performing one on Council President Darlene Harris.
"It's not a perfect piece of legislation, but I think it's something everyone can live with," Mr. O'Hara said, noting it will add to officers' report-writing duties.
Mr. Burgess introduced the bill following Jordan Miles' encounter with three undercover officers in Homewood. Mr. Miles, then a high school honors student, said the officers beat him without provocation. The officers said Mr. Miles ran when they ordered him to stop. They said they suspected he had a gun, though no weapon ever was found.
First Published October 12, 2011 12:00 am