In the wake of the Jordan Miles’ beating during a 2010 arrest, Pittsburgh city council passed legislation forwarded by Councilman Rev. Rickey Burgess requiring police to document complaints of excessive force made against officers and any action taken. The Bureau’s 2011 annual report is the first to contain that data.
|POLICE CHIEF NATE HARPER
The report details federal and state civil court actions filed and resolved against officers during the year as well as those pending or resolved from previous years. Among these were 15 cases charging excessive use of force.
In four cases, the federal court issued summary judgments in favor of the officers involved. Four cases were settled in favor of the plaintiffs for just over $268,000. The bulk of that amount resulted from a single $150,000 judgment from a 2008 civil rights/excessive force lawsuit.
Another case arising from the 2010 G20 summit was settled and paid by the city’s insurance carrier for an undisclosed amount.
The remaining six excessive force cases outlined in the report, including Jordan Miles,’ are pending.
Other civil charges brought against officers range from motor vehicle claims and false imprisonment claims to free speech and non-specific civil rights violations. Of these two were settled for a total of $10,500. Eight other cases were either dismissed or resolved in favor of the officers. Ten civil cases are pending.
As for criminal charges brought against officers, there were four such cases in 2011. In three instances the charges were dismissed by the court. The fourth case resulted in a not-guilty verdict.
In addition to civil and criminal actions filed against officers the report also details the internal disciplinary actions taken by the bureau. It notes that 52 officers were cited by the bureau for disciplinary action, most for improperly operating vehicles. Of these 64 percent resulted in either dismissal of the disciplinary complaint or an oral reprimand.
Only three resulted in termination. In another four case where the bureau recommended termination were taken to arbitration. In all four, the officers were reinstated, two with 60-day suspensions and two with back pay.
Black Political Empowerment Project Chairman Tim Stevens said he is generally pleased with the report and praised police Chief Nate Harper for working with the community to address their concerns about police interactions with the public.
“I want to commend him because he told me personally that he was committed to producing the most complete and transparent report the city has ever seen—and he has done that,” said Stevens. “I think the results of some of the disciplinary action are disappointing, but in terms of the number of court actions, with 900 officers working 365 days a year, it does not seem high. We’ll have a better idea about that after seeing another year or two of data.”
University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris, a nationally recognized expert on policing, said in the absence of more than one year’s figures, the only way to assess whether or not the number of disciplinary and court actions against officers is excessive, would be to compare the report with one from a similarly sized city with a similarly sized police force.
“Don’t get me wrong, this report is a good thing,” he said. “It’s good to have the data because at least, it supplies a point of reference going forward.”
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