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Police Review Board Still in Need of Members But Hopeful About New Administration

Heather McClain
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) has recently been criticized for its lack of effectiveness, but despite having three empty board seats and a mayor and city council who are taking a long time to fill the posts, the board feels it is getting a lot of work done.

Many of the current board members were never officially appointed.

“On October 31st the terms expired. Nobody was succeeded by appointment as of December 31st, so 30 days had lapsed and they were automatically retained in their seats and then what happened was individuals moved. They relocated and were then disqualified from continuing with the board which created the two city council vacancies,” said Beth Pittinger, CPRB’s Executive Director.

The board must be made up of seven city residents who cannot be employed by the city. Three of them are appointed by the mayor and he selects the remaining four from nominations from city council. At least one, but no more than two members must have law enforcement experience, but cannot be active duty police officers.

The three set vacancies, two from city council and one law enforcement position that have been open for a year, have led to some trouble for the board. On February 25th, its meeting had to be canceled after a board member had a family emergency and only three board members were present.

A single board member missing would not have been an issue if the board did not have so many vacant seats. The board has continued to put in proper notice of openings with both former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and current Mayor Bill Peduto, but the notices have received no action. Currently the city council is working to nominate six people for the two vacancies. The mayor will then need to choose two to take the positions.

“What we understand is that council is working on nominating resolution. And the mayor’s office has not indicated whether or not they’re ready to appoint someone to the vacant law enforcement seat, although he did make a number of appointments earlier this week to other boards and authorities. So we’re hopeful that it will be taken care of in the next month,” said Pittinger

Peduto named 45 individuals to posts on eleven boards, commissions, and authorities this week.

Pittinger says that same perceived level of respect was not there during the Ravenstahl administration after the board began to look into some questionable political actions. Soon after the board issued subpoenas and began its investigation, Ravenstahl appointed five new board members, “It was purely political. It was whimsical. And it amplified how boards and authorities can be manipulated at the political will of the mayor,” said Pittinger.

Pittinger says without a full board it becomes very troublesome for appointed board members to meet quorum requirements, but other than that, the lack of members is not slowing them down.

The CPRB has one case in process right now, and on Tuesday the board will have findings and recommendations to issue on Henderson v. Gromek, the case from June 2013 where a teacher had an encounter with a police officer.  

The meeting Tuesday will be held in the South Side Chamber of Commerce.

Beth Pittinger will be back on Essential Pittsburgh next month along with Deborah Walker of the Office of Municipal Investigations, to talk about ongoing interactions between city departments and the CPRB.

Jess was accepted as a WESA fellow in the news department in January 2014. The Erie, PA native attends Duquesne University where she has a double major--broadcast journalism and political science. Following her anticipated graduation in May 2015, she plans to enter law school or begin a career in broadcast journalism.
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