Public Hearing: Diversity a priority in police chief selection

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“It’s wrong for us to lay out criteria before we’ve heard from experts and the community. It’s also wrong to be doing this at this point because we’re not all sure what went wrong,” said District 7 Councilman Patrick Dowd. “It’s not clear to me for example whether the last chief did something by himself to divert funds into an unauthorized bank account. Is it possible?”
However, the criteria laid out by Peduto and Burgess, did not address the recent allegation of police corruption and instead mirrored much of the community’s demands at the public hearing. Peduto’s criteria as outlined in his 100 Days/100 Policies to Change Pittsburgh initiative, calls for a stronger commitment to increasing diversity on the police force. Burgess’ criteria includes a commitment to improving community trust and reducing gun violence.
While the mayor is responsible for appointing a police chief, city council must vote to approve the mayor’s appointments. However, no chief appointed by the mayor has ever been declined by council.
An area of contention among the speakers was whether or not the next police chief should come from within the bureau. Both council and the community seemed split on the issue and many praised former Police Chief Harper’s performance.
“I want to stress that Chief Harper has served this city for six years and not one of you has ever said he’s done a bad job,” said Dan O’Hara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Union. “So to say you’re going to look outside the city for the next police chief is a problem.”
The community’s demands included an array of commitments from increasing diversity, improving police community relations, and reducing gun violence, to increasing police presence in public housing communities, standing up to the FOP union and minimizing police misconduct among off-duty police officers.
“Give me a new police chief that really wants to focus on gun violence,” said Rob Conroy, Western Pa. coordinator for CeaseFire PA. “We had the lost and stolen gun legislation passed here, but unfortunately we had a mayor and a police chief who would not enforce it.”
“Restoring integrity to the department and restoring control over the officers is huge,” said Vic Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director. “We’ve had countless crazy off duty incidents and the problem isn’t only that these incidents are happening, it’s that no one is taking responsibility.”

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