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Citizens Police Review Board Could Weigh in on Rules Before Implementation

Pittsburgh City Council gave unanimous preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow the Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) to review police regulations before they're implemented, rather than afterward.

The measure, sponsored by Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess, will be put to a final vote on Tuesday.

If it's passed, the legislation would permit the CPRB to join in the police union's 15-day prior review period of all rules and regulations proposed by police administration. The CPRB would then give its recommendations to the mayor's office and to the chief of police, who would each have 30 days to respond.

Currently, the CPRB reviews new policies after they're implemented.

Burgess originally wanted to mandate a yearly publication of an abridged version of the police rule book, but Pennsylvania state law shields public safety regulations from public disclosure. Instead, Burgess suggested the CPRB could be the "eyes and ears" of the public when it comes to police rulemaking.

Assistant city solicitor Wendy Kobee said the proposed rule change strikes a good balance.

"It would satisfy both purposes, of having a certain comfort for a level of transparency and preserving the confidentiality of the more sensitive policies that shouldn't be completely out in the open, because not every member of the public, unfortunately, has the best intentions when it comes to figuring out what's happening with the Bureau of Police," Kobee said.

Although the bill advanced with unanimous support, Councilwoman Theresa Smith expressed concern that CPRB employees would be reviewing "very sensitive information" and could possibly leak it inappropriately. When told that CPRB board members already have access to all police rules, the public safety committee chairwoman responded rather bluntly.

"I do know that I've also heard things from the board before that were supposed to be confidential," Smith said. "I will say that I don't have the utmost confidence in this information (not) being shared." 

However, she did end up voting in favor of the bill.

While it doesn't do all he'd hoped for to increase police transparency, Burgess said the bill is one step in an ongoing effort to improve police-community relations.