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County Council Votes Against Civilian Police Review Board

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
Four Republicans and five Democrats voted against a proposal before the Allegheny County Council to create an independent civilian police review board.

A proposal to create an independent civilian police review board in Allegheny County has failed. County council rejected the measure in a 9-6 vote at its meeting Tuesday evening.

The review board would have investigated allegations of police misconduct. Only the county police department would have been required to participate. Municipalities, meanwhile, would have been able to opt in.

Regardless, at Tuesday’s meeting, councilor Sam DeMarco (R - North Fayette) said the bill did not provide enough protections for officers’ rights.

“I do not see the wisdom of wasting the public’s time by offering them hope and passing a piece of legislation that’s so flawed it has no chance of standing,” DeMarco said before the vote.

DeMarco said the bill did not guarantee due process for officers because it did not ensure they could cross-examine those who accuse them of misconduct.

Councilor DeWitt Walton (D-Hill District) defended the board proposal, however, saying, “This legislation is not anti-police. This legislation is about accountability.”

Walton introduced the bill in December, along with co-sponsor Paul Klein (D-Squirrel Hill). Activists intensified calls for a countywide police review board in the aftermath of the police shooting of Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh last year.

On Tuesday, however, opponents said the proposed board would have been weak because it would not have had the power to subpoena officers for public hearings.

And, DeMarco added, “There’s nothing that addresses what it’s going to cost the taxpayer.”

The bill’s supporters dismissed such criticisms as excuses.

Activist Fawn Walker-Montgomery, for example, said councilors should have addressed any flaws in the legislation before it came up for a vote Tuesday. She noted the council held five hearings on the matter over the past year.

“They had ample time to bring these things up, and then they wait till tonight,” Walker-Montgomery said. “But … this is not going to deter us. We’ll definitely keep pushing forward.”

After Tuesday’s vote, Walton pledged to re-introduce the legislation with a new council in January.

Olivia Bennett, who supports the board, will replace Democrat Denise Ranalli Russell, a "no" vote on Tuesday, after defeating her in the primary in May.

In addition, two Republicans who voted against the board, Cindy Kirk and Sue Means, will face Democratic opponents in the November election. Democrat John Palmiere, who also opposed the measure, has a GOP write-in challenger.

On Tuesday, five Democrats joined county council’s four Republicans in blocking the proposal for a civilian police review board. Aside from Palmiere and Ranalli Russell, they included Patrick Catena, Nick Futules, and Bob Macey. The Republicans included DeMarco, Tom Baker, Kirk, and Means.

Democrats Klein, Walton, John DeFazio, Robert Palmosina, Anita Prizio, and Paul Zavarella voted in favor of the board.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.