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Politics & Government

Pittsburgh Council Overhauls Police Training for Domestic Violence Response

Pittsburgh City Council has given unanimous passage to a set of bills that will revamp the way city police officers are trained to respond to domestic violence incidents.

All nine City Council members agreed to adopt the Maryland Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment Program, a step-by-step questionnaire process used by responding officers to determine the victim's risk of physical abuse. The officer would then be required to call the hotline for the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and ask the victim to speak with the operator.

"Research has shown that this will reduce domestic violence homicides potentially by 40 percent or higher," said sponsoring councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess.

He said he expects the $25,000 training process for all city officers to be completed in 18 months, but he said a pilot program should be implemented relatively soon.

"Because the pilot program will happen fairly quickly, I think you'll start seeing, in some targeted places, the results even this fall," Burgess said.

The bills were introduced in January, just weeks after the death of Ka'Sandra Wade in her Larimer home, apparently as a result of domestic abuse.

Two officers visited Wade's home in response to her brief, cut-off New Year's Eve 911 call, but they left after her abusive ex-boyfriend, Anthony Brown, told them through the door there was no problem. Investigators believe Brown then shot Wade and killed himself the next day during a police confrontation.

Burgess said Wade's death focused his attention on domestic violence, particularly because the killing occurred within his East End council district.

"In fact, the house that (Wade) lived in was formerly occupied by my pastor. It was his parsonage. Her killer killed himself around the corner from my house," Burgess said. "Certainly, that incident arrested my attention."

After the introduction of the bills, Burgess formed an ad hoc committee of women's advocacy groups and other interested parties to craft the legislation. The bills were put on hold several times as the police department dealt with its slush fund scandal but finally received passage on Tuesday.