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Mayor Peduto Introduces Police Reform Task Force

Gene J. Puskar
In this June 7, 2020, file photo, protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally on Mount Washington overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, to protest the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the creation of a police-reform task force Wednesday. The task force will review current police practices and police-community relations, and will have recommendations to the mayor by the fall.

 “This Task Force is made up of representatives from diverse stakeholder communities and will put our neighbors' voices at the center of the conversation of police reform since that is the key to making real and sustained change,” Peduto said in a statement. “I'm confident that they will develop people-oriented solutions that make Pittsburgh a better place for all, especially in our black communities.”

The task force is made up of 17 members, including Valerie McDonald Roberts, a former member of Peduto's cabinet and former local officeholder, as well as veteran activists Tim Stevens and Brandi Fisher, who is with the Alliance for Police Accountability.

On Monday, Fisher was among a group of activists who presented a list of demands for police reform to the mayor’s office. It included proposals to "demilitarize" the police by taking away military gear, removing the current head of the Fraternal Order of Police, and reducing the budget for policing.

“Abolishing the police tomorrow is not ideal,” Fisher said. “But we do believe that we need to rely less on policing and over-incarceration.”

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, which represents Pittsburgh officers, said the task force “seems to convey a lack of confidence with: community leaders, city council, the Office of Municipal Investigations, Bureau of Police leadership, and the Citizen Police Review Board.”

In a statement, the union said police had already done work "to improve police and community interactions, particularly when it comes to use of force and procedural justice matters." Task-force members, it said, had "limited or no police experience," and the effort was "duplicative, and an unnecessary cost that is borne by the taxpayers.”

Also on Wednesday morning, City Council called for a public hearing on legislation to reform policing. The bills were introduced by Councilor Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle. They would bar the city from buying military equipment for police, require officers to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force or violating someone's rights, and to transfer money from police salaries into violence prevention.

Activists nationwide are calling for police reforms, with some urging that cities defund their police departments. But Lavelle said it would be important to define terms like "defund," which some interpret as an effort to eliminate spending for police entirely, while others use the word to describe efforts to reallocate some funds toward social needs. 

“One of our challenges moving forward will be definition, and how we actually define terms that we're going to be using,” Lavelle said. “So when you say 'defund the police,' what does that actually mean?”

A date has not been set for the public hearing yet.