Pittsburgh Police Zone 5 Public Safety Council President Diane Daniels said she was very pleased to see the nearly 80 residents who came to the Kingsley Association to submit questions and suggestions to the committee that will choose the city’s next police chief.
She was not as pleased when one young resident called the July 8 meeting a sham and said she should be ashamed for taking part in it.
“You should be ashamed. No one is talking about what’s real and he’s sitting here,” said Maurice Ford, pointing to his wheelchair-bound brother Leon. “None of you all are serious.”
Leon Ford V was shot multiple times and paralyzed by Zone 5 police officers during a 2012 traffic stop. Brandi Fisher, founder of Citizens for Police Accountability, agreed that no one brings up cases like Leon Ford’s, the Jordan Miles case and that of teacher Dennis Henderson—all accosted, beaten or shot by Zone 5 officers—was the elephant in the room.
“It’s all politics. It doesn’t matter if the next chief is male, female, Black, White or purple,” she said. “If he can’t discipline and fire bad officers, no matter how good a person he or she might be, it’s not going to change the dynamic.”
While not addressing those cases directly, committee members Valerie Dixon, executive director of Prevent Another Crime Today, and city Public Safety Director nominee Steven Bucar said they weren’t there for politics.
“I’m not here for a dog and pony show,” said Dixon. “I feel for that young man and for Leon.”
Bucar said he needs input from Zone 5 residents to make an informed decision.
“You’ve seen bad chiefs and good officers and vice verse, and you have a sense of what we need. I want to hear from you,” he said. “This isn’t window dressing. If we don’t get the right candidate, we’ll do it all over again. We’re not going to settle for second best.”
Still, said committee member and former One Vision One Life Executive Director Richard Garland, said the discipline issue should be addressed.
“There is no such thing as ‘suspended without pay,’” he said. “The chief needs the ability to discipline officers and not have an arbitrator put them right back on the street.”
Not even Mayor Bill Peduto, who thanked the crowd for attending, mentioned police conduct, even though he could push for more command authority over discipline during upcoming contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police.
There’s a reason for that, said City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess, whose district includes much of Police Zone 5—he can’t. Not only are job related disputes subject to binding arbitration—so is the contract negotiation.
“If the mayor says he wants the chief to have more disciplinary power, the union just objects and the arbitrator finds in their favor,” said Burgess. “I’ve been very public about my criteria for the next chief, and that I don’t have much confidence in the arbitration system. An arbitrator just said city police could live 20 miles away. The system is not necessarily in the residents’ best interest.”
However, Burgess said Daniels should be pleased that those who attended did come up with questions that put the committee on record about addressing issues of cooperation and partnership between the police bureau and the Black community and on increasing and encouraging racial diversity.
Building diversity in the department is already underway, said panelist and Office of Municipal Investigations Director Deborah Walker.
“That’s already happening,” she said. “Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge has hired an assistant solicitor who is going to every police zone and is training personnel in diversity.”
The committee will continue gathering input from residents by meeting with the public safety councils in all six police zones. The next meeting will take place July 16 at St, John Vianney Hall, 821 Climax St. in Allentown. Residents may also respond to online questions about the next police chief’s qualifications at http://pittsburghpa.mindmixer.com.
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