Thursday, February 10, 2011

Speakers Testify on City Police Reform Legislation

Experts from law enforcement, academia and the legal arena spoke out in support of proposed police reform legislation at Pittsburgh Council Thursday. The post-agenda meeting centered on an ordinance drafted by Councilman Ricky Burgess that would require routine data collection by officers and law enforcement administrators. That data would include everything from routine traffic stops to incidents involving the use of force. The information would be published in an annual public report that would specify the make-up of the police force; any legal action against police officers; average response times; arrests by charge, race and gender by zone and specialized units; conviction rates and traffic stops as well as recruitment and retention. Vic Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania says in the 1990's Pittsburgh police were forced to abide by a consent decree that help bring the department in line. But he says he's sure the police union will come out against the legislation as hamstringing their operations, "that is demonstrably false because other police departments around the country do it, and the city of Pittsburgh police department has done it--they were forced to do it under the consent decree--and crime went down." Walczak says there's a perception in the black community that it is under siege, "and until and unless the city measures what their officers are doing and publicizes it, they can't credibly come out and say there's no problem." Wayne Babish, a former police officer and adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh supports the legislation and says over time, police officers will recognize its benefits, "a police chief would welcome and view this proposed legislation as an opportunity to communicate and collaborate with elected officials." Burgess' legislation was sparked by the alleged beating of Jordan Miles, a black high-school student, by white, plain-clothed police officers in Homewood in January 2010. An investigation into that incident is still pending.

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