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State Police To Provide Patrol Services In East Pittsburgh

Keith Srakocic
Vehicles are parked along Grandview Avenue on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in the neighborhood where witnesses say a police officer fatally shot a 17-year-old boy just seconds after he fled from a traffic stop confrontation late Tuesday in East Pittsburgh.

The community of East Pittsburgh will disband its police department, with the Pennsylvania state police providing services instead starting this weekend. The borough's police department has been widely criticized since officer Michael Rosfeld fatally shot unarmed teenager Antwon Rose this summer.

A state police spokeswoman confirmed that East Pittsburgh had sent a letter on Nov. 13 requesting patrol services. The town's council had renewed long running discussions of disbanding the now five-person department in August, shortly after Rosfeld fatally shot 17-year-old Rose in the back as he fled a June traffic stop. The officer has been charged with criminal homicide in the shooting.

East Pittsburgh officials didn't immediately return messages for comment Monday, but state police said they will take over policing starting on Saturday.

State police are obligated under law to provide policing services when a municipality does not have a police department. Agency spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said the state covers the cost at no additional charge to local governments. (In the past, Governor Tom Wolf unsuccessfully proposed a $25 per-person fee for residents covered by state police.)

Tarkowski said, however, that state troopers do not enforce local ordinances, given the difficulty of training to learn different laws across many jurisdictions. And he added that municipalities often sacrifice quicker response times when they turn to state police.

“I think that’s one of the big questions that communities struggle with when making the decision of whether or not to opt for state police coverage,” Tarkowski said. “The state police simply, in most cases, are not going to have that response time as a local department would, where their only responsibility is that community.”

Tarkowski said the state police have mitigated this issue by equipping each of their vehicles with “mobile offices” where troopers can complete reports, access records, and communicate with supervisors, without needing to return to a station.

State troopers would represent several changes from East Pittsburgh’s existing five-member force of part-time officers.

The East Pittsburgh police department drew criticism for lacking hiring and training policies. By contrast, Tarkowski said, the state police mandate extensive training to prevent bias-based policing. Rose was black, while the officer accused of fatally shooting him, Rosfeld, is white.

Nearly 7 percent of enlisted Pennsylvania state troopers are non-white, according to state police data. East Pittsburgh is over 60 percent non-white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

All state patrol vehicles, Tarkowski added, are equipped with cameras. He said the force launched a pilot in June to test body cameras in three of its sixteen troops. Tarkowski said the pilot will end this year, though he noted it will be difficult to fund the devices for the Commonwealth’s more than 4,000 troopers.

About half of Pennsylvania municipalities rely on state police services, with nearly 1,300 receiving full-time coverage and more than 400 receiving part-time coverage.

It’s most common for small and rural communities to request state coverage, according to Tarkowski. In Allegheny County, state police data show, Glenfield and Haysville Boroughs receive full-time service, while Fawn Township receives part-time service.