One of the lesser ballyhooed changes made by Mayor Bill Peduto as he seeks to put his stamp on the city may turn out to have a significant effect on police-community relations, changes in the management and oversight of the Office of Municipal Investigations.
Peduto has moved OMI out of the Public Safety Department and placed it under the purview of the city’s Law Department and replaced OMI chief and Pittsburgh police officer Cathy Kraus with Deborah Walker, former Citizens Police Review Board Chair and veteran Pitt police officer. Her immediate supervisor is city’s Chief Legal Officer Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge, who at one time also served as the CPRB solicitor.
CPRB Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger said this is a positive change for the city, because with cases involving allegations of excessive forces against Jordan Miles, Dennis Henderson, the El brothers and Leon Ford Jr., it addresses the perception that, with police investigating fellow officers, it was the fox guarding the hen house.
“Deborah brings exceptional skills as both a police officer and civil administrator. She knows about the obstacles and recognizes the expectations of civilian and law enforcement constituencies. She can see when something is a systemic problem, a training issue or just idiosyncratic cop,” she said.
“She has a reputation for integrity and fairness, as does (Sanchez-Ridge),” Pittinger added. “It’s a good start because we have a lot of healing to do in this city. There are good cops out there that deserve to be rewarded for their conduct rather than being tarnished with others’ bad behavior.”
Walker said the poor perception the public has of OMI is going to change.
“Those perceptions—some real, some false—are a reflection of leadership. I’ve built a reputation for integrity during my career. And I want the community to know and understand that when they call to file a complaint—against any city employee—I will investigate it,” she said. “High profile or not, my role is to make sure everyone is treated fairly and with respect. I will oversee the investigative process and treat every case equally.”
Part of that perception change involves telling people what OMI actually does. It investigates allegations of misconduct against all city employees, from clerks fixing traffic tickets or padding expense accounts to contract kickbacks. But the majority of its cases do involve complaints against the police.
“We do not recommend discipline. We investigate and report our findings to the appropriate office, and to the complainant,” she said. “In the event we discover evidence of criminal activity, we turn that over to the district attorney.”
Walker said she is already working to make the office more visible. In recent weeks she has attended community meetings with CISP probation program, the PACE Inclusive Voices networking luncheon, and a networking event with students at Pitt. That is just the beginning.
“I’ve called all the zone commanders and will be attending all the zone safety meetings,” she said. “We’re getting the word out that OMI is willing to come to your meeting and talk about what we do.”
She also confirmed that the office will be moving from its current strip district location, but would not say where or when.
“I’m hoping to have a community open house. Of course I have to discuss that with my supervisor,” she said.
“Hopefully the mayor can stop over and say hello. Oh, yeah. We’ll have a ball.”
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