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Activists Propose Civilian Council To Oversee Pittsburgh Police Spending, Discipline

A Pittsburgh police officer waits at a stoplight in the city's Brighton Heights neighborhood.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A Pittsburgh police officer waits at a stoplight in the city's Brighton Heights neighborhood.

Police accountability activists are launching a ballot initiative campaign to create a democratically-elected civilian council with full powers over the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson is legal counsel for Stop the Station, one of the groups behind the effort. He said the creation of such a council would require an amendment to the city’s home rule charter.

“That would allow for this democratically elected board to be created and then have some power over approving or rejecting budgets, including the police budget,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson said the effort came out of the Black Lives Matter movement, which brought police accountability issues to the fore after the murder of George Floyd.

“In order to bring justice to our neighborhoods and our communities, particularly out black and brown communities, we need to have democratic control over the very institutions that are causing them harm, and that is the police departments.”

As envisioned, the council would be able to hire, fire and discipline officers, and veto weapons and technology purchases. It would also replace the city in collective bargaining negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police.

In a statement, a Pittsburgh Public Safety spokesperson said the agency "respects the democratic right of the electorate to campaign for whatever changes they want to see in their city."

The FOP did not return a request for comment.

Christopher started listening to public radio shortly after he picked up the keys to that '98 Chevy Cavalier back in 2004. He no longer has that car (it's kind of a funny story), but he still listens to — and now has a hand in creating — public radio programming everyday.