City drops civilians from police review

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Instead of sitting inside interviewing prospective Pittsburgh police candidates, members of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network stood in the cold outside Holy Innocents Catholic School, because the city would not let them continue.

They demanded to be allowed to do so.

NotGoingQuietly
NOT GOING QUIETLY—Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network President Rev. Richard Freeman demand that community members be allowed to continue interviewing city police candidates. (Photo by Gail Manker)

“We’re here because the government has decided the voice of the people is not necessary, that the voice of the people will be muted, will be silenced,” said PIIN President Rev. Richard Freeman. “That is untenable. Many were trained to represent the people in this process and we’re here to demand that they be back at the table.”

As part of an effort to foster better police/community relations and to address the increasing lack of racial diversity on the city police force, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Public Safety Director Michael Huss and Police Chief Nate Harper agreed during the summer to have community members participate in the oral interview process for Bureau of Police applicants that had passed the written test.

The 30 community members approved and trained by the civil service commission began assisting with the interviews Dec. 5. On Dec. 6 they were told they would not be participating further after police discovered one interviewer had been arrested in 2009 for shooting at a woman in the Hill District.

Who actually made the decision to drop the civilians is not clear because there was no press release informing the general public, but that decision had to come from Huse with the support of the mayor.

Dianne Malrey, is still on probation. Officers who knew her complained that a felon might have a bias against police should not be part of the interview team.

Huss did not return calls for comment on whether or how the issue would be resolved. He told the Post-Gazette Dec. 7 that police had conducted background checks of all the applicants, but she had somehow “slipped through the cracks.” Similarly, Harper’s office sent out an email saying applicants had to clear background checks.

At the press conference, however, PIIN members and ACLU spokesman Vic Walczak all said no background checks were conducted, or asked for, on any of those trained for the interviews.

Reverend Chad Collins, of Valley View Presbyterian Church in Garfield, said Malrey attends his church, and that neither of them was asked to sign releases for background checks.

“This isn’t about background checks, it’s about getting the community back to the table. The city is blaming one woman and a flawed system for their failings,” he said. “This will only increase the feelings of those with animosity toward police.”

PIIN members Greg Patrick, Michael Stanton and Rev. David McFarland also said they were never asked to pass a background screening, neither was Rev. Glenn R. Grayson, pastor of the Wesley Center AMEZ Church.

“We submitted names more than three weeks ago and everyone was trained. I was trained,” said Rev. Grayson. “We’re outside now because the city mishandled things. I think this issue could have been worked through at lunch that day. Halting the whole process is extreme.”

Walczak having civilian participation in the oral interview process was a small but important step in improving police community relations and improve diversity, and to cancel it “for no reason makes no sense.”

“Since 2001, out of 368 officers hired, only 14 are African-American. From 2007-2011, it’s worse—only five of 188. That’s 2.6 percent when the city’s Black population is 27.7 percent,” said Walczak. “It seems like a handy excuse to cancel a worthwhile process. They don’t want us to see behind the curtain. This just gives ammunition to those who say the city is intentionally discriminating against African-Americans.”

All interviews were again being conducted exclusively by police personnel.

“This was a golden opportunity to give the community an insight into how recruitment works, and for the police to see how the community works,” said Rev. McFarland. “But instead, this was an insight into politics we did not expect to see.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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