Police reform and the state of policing took center stage today as the Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory Commission came to Pittsburgh for the first time.
The group held a meeting and a round-table discussion at the City-County building downtown.
The relatively new organization, created by the governor two years ago, is responsible for reviewing the actions of law enforcement officers employed by the state of Pennsylvania.
The commission does not have any prosecutorial power, but can review cases and recommend changes or reforms.
The law enforcement agencies are not required to implement the recommendations, but commission members said today that most state agencies have been more than willing to work with them.
While in Pittsburgh, the commission reviewed several cases involving Pennsylvania state police troopers and then discussed police reforms with a number of invited guests.
They also opened up the meeting for public comment.
Among the invited guests was Tim Stevens, Chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project.
He told commission members the city of Pittsburgh is making real progress when it comes to police reforms.
“There is progress in the air. Is there progress yet to be made? Absolutely,” said Stevens, who outlined a number of recommendations and reforms that he said he’s beginning to see take hold in Pittsburgh, including legislation passed by city council banning traffic stops for minor offenses.
“Traffic stops should not be a death penalty. so what we recommended were numerous traffic stops ... to be ended, at least reviewed,” said Stevens.
Stevens has been calling for more diversity on the Pittsburgh police force, more officers involved in community engagement and more training that emphasizes de-escalation.
Stevens told the commission when someone dies at the hands of police, the case should be handled by the state attorney general, not the local district attorney
“The same DA who depends on the police today depends on the police tomorrow, depends on the police next week and next year. When it comes to potentially prosecuting those same officers, how can they be objective?,” asked Stevens.
Stevens says Pittsburgh police have already begun addressing many of these recommendations that his organization suggested after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
The chair of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, which reviews complaints involving city of Pittsburgh police officers, said she believes the key to a successful policing strategy these days is to integrate more social workers into the police department, a move the city began last year.
“So many times it wasn’t a matter of arrest, it was a matter of listening and referring to (a) social services agency,” said Emma Lucas-Darby of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board.
Commission members and guests also talked about the critical role that citizen review boards play in reviewing police actions and recommending changes to improve policing.
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