Democratic State Lawmakers Consider How To Improve Police-Community Relations

Jul 17, 2018


There has been renewed interest in police-community relations since the fatal shooting of Antwon Rose last month. Nearly 20 Democratic state lawmakers gathered in Wilkinsburg Tuesday for a three-hour hearing on the topic. They discussed a range of issues such as police use of force, diversity education for officers and how to increase public oversight of law enforcement.

A topic that came up repeatedly was how to standardize training across the hundreds of police departments throughout the state. State Rep. Dom Costa (D-Stanton Heights) said proper training is a necessary step toward other reforms.

“A lot of people think that if you have policies on the books like these, that that’s good,” he said. “But if you don’t train to each one of those policies, they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.”

Costa noted that local forces sometimes don’t have enough resources to provide their officers with even mandatory training.

While Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) agreed training is important, he said it has limits.

“I can’t train a racist not to be a racist,” Harris said. “When I look at a lot of the police shootings a lot of times, what has happened, in my opinion, is that officers could not see the humanity of the person that they were shooting at.”

The lawmakers plan to use the testimony gathered at Tuesday's hearing to develop a legislative package of reforms, according to State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills). Costa, who requested the hearing along with state Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Homewood), said the forthcoming proposals will be introduced in September when the state legislature is back in session.

Gainey is confident Democrats can win support for some of the ideas discussed at the hearing, especially since the shooting of Rose, which local activists continue to protest.

 

“Nobody wants what’s going on right now,” Gainey said. “Nobody wants to wake up, and the person got shot in the back three times, and you got everything happening in the street - nobody wants that. Who would want that?”

Gainey noted that law enforcement professionals who testified at the hearing said they want to have a better relationship with the community. He said state lawmakers can help by adopting better policies.

Witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing included:

  • Ophelia Coleman, Wilkinsburg chief of police
  • Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission
  • La’Tasha D. Mayes, executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice
  • Coleman McDonough, Allegheny County Police superintendent
  • Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board
  • Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania
  • Scott Schubert, Pittsburgh chief of police
  • William Slaton, commander of the Heritage Affairs Section and the Equality and Inclusion Office for the Pennsylvania State Police
  • Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, attorney and medical-legal consultant