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U.S. Attorney General Addresses Pittsburgh’s Community-Police Relationships

Emma Gross
90.5 WESA

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Pittsburgh on Monday as part of the nationwide Community Policing Tour that highlights cities taking innovative and effective steps to build trust between the police force and the community.

Pittsburgh is one of six pilot cities in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice announced by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in March. The program aims to increase contact between the attorney general’s office and local community and police leaders.

As part of the initiative, Pittsburgh will receive more than $1 million to fund implicit bias training for officers. The grant will also contribute to gathering statistics on community-police interactions to get a better sense of how these interactions are carried out and to gauge community perspective on existing community-police relationships. Lynch said this program is meant to supplement the efforts Pittsburgh has already taken to build trust between the police and the community, such as the “Safer Together” initiative announced in February.

“We really hope to be part of the force that continues what’s begun here in Pittsburgh, which is a dialogue between the police and community, and we hope to strengthen that dialogue,” said Lynch.

Lynch said Pittsburgh, like the other cities on the tour, has had historically rocky relationships between the police and the communities, most notably and recently with the arrest of former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper in 2014. Lynch said though each city has tumultuous community-police relationships for different reasons, they’ve found increased community engagement is an effective solution.

“When we talk to communities that feel that they do have that positive and respectful relationship, the main thing they say is that before there’s a problem, the police are in the community getting to know us and getting to know what our concerns are,” she said.

Because the tour is part of President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, Lynch, along with Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay and US Attorney David J. Hickton, met with 12 high school students or recent high school graduates for a discussion about their perceptions of community-police relations in Pittsburgh. Lynch emphasized the importance of building relationships between law enforcement and children and said she’s “optimistic” about the initiatives students have started in their high schools, as well as the police department’s priority of connecting with Pittsburgh’s youth.

Savannah Mynahan, a junior at Brashear High School, participated in the discussion with Lynch. She helped start a program at her school that will bring students and police officers together in a training program and a roundtable discussion, with the goal of building honest relationships between the two that they found, in a survey, hasn’t really existed before.

“It’s something that I’m passionate about, and I just want the relationship there, that way we won’t have to experience another case like Michael Brown or Leon Ford or Tamir Rice,” she said.

Lynch said she’s also proud of the work US Attorney Hickton has done locally, establishing a civil rights division in his district office that focuses on law enforcement accountability and his participation in roundtable discussions.

During the visit, Lynch spoke at the Fraternal Order of Police’s 62nd National Biennial Conference, and she was part of a community policing roundtable at the Hill House Association, with attendees such as Hickton, Chief McLay, Mayor Bill Peduto, and other community leaders.