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PIIN: Favoritism, Racial Bias in Police Hiring

Local faith leaders are demanding that Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl restore community involvement in the police hiring process. The Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) is also criticizing the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police for what it sees as favoritism and a racial bias in its hiring process.

At a public meeting in Hazelwood on Tuesday, PIIN leaders brought together a few dozen people to discuss the details of their brief participation on police oral review boards. The boards were scrapped by the city after only two days.

"Honestly, I was surprised at how much hostility was present in that room," said University of Pittsburgh business professor Audrey Murrell, one of the community volunteers. "It was very intimidating."

The push for community involvement was spearheaded by PIIN, and the administration allowed one city resident to serve on each four-person oral review board last fall. However, the community involvement was terminated after just two days when police discovered that one of the newcomers was a convicted felon.

Now, as PIIN demands that the community be readmitted to the process, those who sat on the boards earlier this year said they saw several conflicts of interest in the hiring process. Reverend Chad Collins of Pastor Bidwell Presbyterian Church said he saw a clear instance of nepotism during his time on the board.

"It was made reference by [the candidate] while she was walking in that her father was a police officer," said Collins, "and instead of halting that where we probably should have, and made her go to another room and not make that pronouncement, the candidate was welcomed to take [the exam] with us."

Collins said two of the three police officers on the board gave the woman perfect scores, despite a mediocre performance on the test.

"My score balanced hers out," said Collins. "There was two of us who gave her average scores, and that was at least positive. But taking us out of the equation, which is what they did, then she's got great scores."

PIIN is calling for a City Council hearing on the issue of community participation in the police hiring process.

Diversity on the Pittsburgh Police Force

The group also rehashed "stark" demographics of the 368 city police officers hired since 2001.

"Out of that 368, 50 are female, so that's about 13.5%," said Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. "There have been nine African-American males, out of 368. Nine. And then, there have been five African-American females."

Walczak said the 1975 "Weber Decree" ordered that the city hire one black male, one black female, and one white female for every white male it hires as a police officer. He said that decree made the city's police department one of the most diverse in the country, but it was struck down in 1991 by the Supreme Court.