According to the city’s Disciplinary Manual, last updated in April 2009, the manual can be changed “at any time, without notice by the director of personnel.”
That would seem to indicate that the mayor could have changes made that would allow him or the chief of police to discipline, demote or fire bad police officers more quickly.
But there is a disclaimer: “if there is a difference between any collective bargaining agreement and this manual, the collective bargaining agreement takes precedence. In cases where federal, state or local laws differ from this manual, the city will comply with the applicable law.”
Applicable law, Act 111, and the 1995 state Supreme Court “Pennsylvania State Police v. Pennsylvania State Troopers Association (Betancourt)” ruling take precedence. So, if the mayor fires an officer, unless he is convicted of a criminal offense, he will likely be reinstated through the grievance and arbitration process.
Then Mayor Tom Murphy fired officer Jeffrey Cooperstein after he ended a car chase by fatally shooting Deron Grimmitt in 1998. He was tried for homicide, acquitted, and reinstated. He retired to Naples, Fla.
In April, the Citizen’s Police Review Board recommended that the mayor fire officer Jonathan Gromek for “an egregious act of misconduct” when he arrested Manchester Academy Charter School teacher Dennis Henderson the previous June.
Acting Chief Regina McDonald instead opted for issuing a written reprimand. The Fraternal Order of Police filed a grievance stating the reprimand was “too harsh.”
Is there anything the Citizen’s Police Review Board or Alliance for Police Accountability can do?
“We don’t just act on citizen complaints,” said CPRB Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger. “The board can initiate investigations as it sees fit and has. We then make recommendations to the mayor and chief of police. We are the only independent board in the home rule charter empowered to investigate and make recommendations on police misconduct. But it is only advisory. We do not have the authority to enforce our recommendations.”
Even if bad officers are reinstated with back pay by arbitrators, Pittinger thinks the mayor should fire them to send a message.
“It’s an injustice to keep people employed, especially public safety officers, if they are not meeting the expectations of service–especially to other officers,” she said. “Keeping them doesn’t do anyone any favors, but they do it, morale goes down the tubes and they wonder why. Eventually people will get tired of it, even the arbitrators. Because how many times can a cop violate someone’s civil rights and get away with it?”
The Alliance for Police Accountability has no charter authority at all, but Executive Director Brandi Fisher said her board has been concentrating on changing the language in the current police contract that, she said, always favors officers in disciplinary disputes.
“We plan to submit changes to the mayor ahead of any new police contract agreement,” she said. “Simultaneously, we want to push (state Reps.) Ed Gainey and Jake Wheatley to introduce legislation around Act 111.”
When asked during a recent editorial board meeting with the New Pittsburgh Courier if any senate Democrats were working on amending Act 111 to give mayors and chiefs more control, state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said, “No one is having any discussions about that.”
Wheatley said no one in the house is “having that conversation” either, and he’s not sure they should.
“I’m not necessarily convinced the mayor or chief should have more control. I don’t think we want to leave these things in hands of those who could use them punitively for political purposes,” he said. “I’d rather have a more communal, independent oversight entity–with teeth. That’s what we thought the CPRB would be. I’d rather see the review board be able to enforce its recommendations. That would be where I’d start.”
Since amending Act 111 to allow for broader appeals of arbitrator’s rulings on police discipline would require state legislative action, concerned citizens seeking such action are urged to contact their state representatives and state senators.
State house representatives whose districts include Pittsburgh neighborhoods are:
•Dom Costa, Dist. 21, 6808 Greenwood Ave. 15206, 412-361-2040;
•Paul Costa, Dist. 34, 519 Penn Ave. 17102, 412-824-3400;
•Dan Deasy, Dist. 27, 436 S. Main St., Suite 100, 15220, 412-928-9514;
•Dan Frankel, Dist. 23, 2345 Murray Ave. Suite 205, 15217, 412-422-1774;
•Ed Gainey, Dist. 24, 100 Sheridan Square, 3rd Floor, 15206, 412-665-5502;
•Adam Ravenstahl, Dist. 20, 3689 California Ave. 15212, 412-321-5523;
•Harry Readshaw, Dist. 36, 1917 Brownsville Rd., 15210, 412-881-4208, and
•Jake Wheatley, Dist. 19, 2015-2017 Centre Ave., 1st floor, 15219, 412-471-7760.
State senators whose districts include city neighborhoods are:
•Jay Costa, Dist. 43, 1501 Ardmore Blvd., Suite 403, 15221, 412-241-6690 or 2306 Brownsville Rd., 15210, 412-884-8308;
•Jim Ferlo*, Dist. 38, 35319 Butler St., 15201, 412-621-3006, and
•Wayne Fontana, Dist. 42, 932 Brookline Blvd. 15226, 412-344-2551.
*Ferlo’s term ends Dec. 31. He is not seeking re-election.
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