Pittsburgh endorses '8 Can't Wait' campaign for police reform, suggests changes to arbitration laws
"Now is the time to show your support for needed police reform in Pennsylvania," said Mayor Bill Peduto. "Being quiet is not where the state needs to be"
By Lacretia Wimbley
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Thursday called for "white elected officials" to step up as he proposed reforms to police use-of-force policies in the wake of the Memorial Day death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd while in police custody.
Protests have erupted across the country and beyond after bystander video showed Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin holding his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, despite the man's cries that he could not breathe.
Following recent cries for police use-of-force reform following Mr. Floyd's death, the city is calling for two separate initiatives, Mr. Peduto said Thursday.
One begins right here for city councils and mayors' offices this week, to change and create police reform in every city in this country," he said. "The second happens in Harrisburg, where state leaders need to be able to step up and allow these [police reform] bills to be committed and have a vote. We're calling on every other white elected official to support and back and sponsor these bills.
"Now is the time to show your support for needed police reform in Pennsylvania. Being quiet is not where the state needs to be," Mr. Peduto directed at state lawmakers during remarks at a press conference outside the City-County Building Downtown.
He was referring to one of several use-of-force bills introduced by Democratic state legislators last year and in years prior which would govern use of deadly force during arrests. The bills never made it to a vote, however.
Several Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged House leadership to address the police reform bills that have been hanging in House committees. State Rep. Summer Lee, D-Braddock, said in a statement that House Republicans canceled two weeks of legislative session this month.
"In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, those same legislative leaders have issued press releases expressing their desire to heal our nation and seek justice," she said. "Well, now is their opportunity to show that actions speak louder than words."
The mayor's office on Thursday announced its endorsement of the "8 Can't Wait" national online campaign, which seeks to limit and control how police use force. He said the city has already started to review some of its policies to ensure the following:
- Officers de-escalate situations before using force
- Have a "Force Continuum or Matrix" included in their use of force policy, defining weapons/types of force used to respond to specific types of resistance
- Officers to give verbal warning before using deadly force
- Explicitly prohibit chokeholds and strangleholds or limit these tactics in situations where deadly force is authorized
- Prohibits officers from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless person is deadly threat
- Officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before using deadly force
- Officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force
- Officers to report all uses of force, including threatening a civilian with a firearm
According to Campaign Zero, which launched the initiative, these 8 policies, if implemented together, can decrease police violence by up to 72%. That's based on their 2016 Police Use of Force Policy Analysis, which can be reviewed in full below.
Current Pennsylvania law states, in part, that a police officer "need not retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance to the arrest. He is justified in the use of any force which he believes to be necessary to effect the arrest, and of any force which he believes to be necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest."
Peaceful protests turned violent Saturday and Monday in Pittsburgh and city police confirmed Tuesday that they used tear gas, smoke canisters, beanbags and sponge rounds to disperse crowds — after initially reporting that merely smoke, not tear gas, was used. Mr. Peduto previously said a small "splinter group" of outsiders turned the protest into a more violent one.
After Monday's protest in East Liberty, Mr. Peduto also initially reported that police seemed to be justified in their behavior, then later announced an investigation into the matter. Whether police were incited by violent demonstrators to de-escalate protests, or if police initiated the violence themselves, is pending a probe by the Office of Municipal Investigations, he said Thursday.
Mr. Peduto acknowledged that their first report regarding what happened was "wrong," but he declined to give a personal opinion.
"There are two different stories," he said. "One has been reported and is being asked by OMI to investigate with evidence that it was started by rocks and projectiles being thrown at the police. And there's a second one that rocks and projectiles didn't start until after police action.
"... the investigation lays out point by point where there is a difference of opinion between what was reported on Monday night, and what video, audio and photographs from the public said was different."
During Thursday's conference, Mr. Peduto said he supports annual implicit bias and de-escalation training for city police. Pittsburgh officers already undergo such training, but the mayor said he would like to see it done "more regularly."
He again touted the reforms later Thursday afternoon when he joined Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert for a Facebook live discussion about equity and public safety moderated by the mayor's Chief Equity Officer Majestic Lane.
Posted by City of Pittsburgh - Office of the Mayor on Thursday, June 4, 2020
He said "most" are already being followed by the city's police but did not specify which ones.
Chief Schubert said the bureau does "a lot more training than other agencies do."
We mandate that everybody has the implicit bias training, we actually offer it to the communities as well," he continued. "... And we're always trying to do more and more, and we actually just brought in more de-escalation training that our instructors at the academy have. Actually more of that would have been going on now had it not been for the COVID-19 that struck earlier this year."
Under Pennsylvania law, city leaders are allowed to fire and discipline police officers for misbehavior. The mayor acknowledged Thursday that arbitrators have the ability to overturn such discipline. Officers are certified under the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission, which is administered under the state police.
The mayor's office on Thursday suggested the following reforms to current arbitration laws:
- Amend Act 111 to limit scope of bargaining over disciplinary procedures or specifically limit a labor arbitrator's authority to modify disciplinary penalties
- Amend Act 111 to adopt the "public policy exception," which would enable cities to challenge an arbitrator's decision to return an officer to work
- Amend the Confidence in Law Enforcement Act to expand circumstances under which employers are required to terminate officers engaged in misconduct
- Give the Municipal Police Officer's Education and Training Commission more authority to revoke officer certifications, or the ability to review use-of-force complaints to suspend or revoke certifications
Review Campaign Zero's police use of force report:
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