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Pittsburgh City Council Passes Bills On Changes To Police Policies And Budget

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A Pittsburgh Police officer stands near the entrance to the Liberty Tunnels during a protest against police brutality on June 7, 2020.

With its August recess looming, Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday tackled a handful of bills that would change the police department's budget and some of its policies -- a legislative response to nationwide protests following police killings of unarmed Black people.

The most controversial of the four proposals was a bill to transfer $250,000 from the city budget's line item for police salaries to a violence prevention fund called Stop The Violence. That bill, along with a ban on purchasing military equipment for police, passed after lengthy discussion.

But three councilors voted no.

One of them was council president Theresa Kail-Smith. She said council hadn't heard enough from people involved in the issue, and that members hadn't had a chance to consider the proposal's budgetary impact. That's partly because a Monday hearing -- which would have included police, activists and representatives from county government -- was canceled.
"We were supposed to have the post-agenda yesterday with the county talking about the social services because they get a billion dollars for social services," Kail-Smith said. "We're talking about pennies compared to what they get, and yet we're talking about how we're going to make a change. I don't think that amount of money is going to make a dent in anything."

Councilors Bruce Kraus and Anthony Coghill also voted no. Coghill said he supported redirecting funding to community needs, but ultimately could not support the bill.

"I'm not looking just to take this from the police," he said. "I think we need alternate sources and I think we're going to need a lot more money. ... I do believe in the concept, I hope it can change things. But I also will be voting no."

Councilor Ricky Burgess, who introduced the bills, said it’s time to re-think what policing looks like. 


“It’s going to be a hard conversation, because for years we believed more police officers made our communities safer,” he said. “Now it’s time to re-think what our police looks like. And maybe a smaller, nimbler police force is the answer."

Council passed two other bills unanimously: a ban on police using chokeholds, and a requirement for officers to intervene if they witness misconduct by fellow police.  

Burgess introduced the measures after peaceful protests in Pittsburgh earlier this summer ended in non-lethal crowd dispersal methods. Questions began to circulate of whether the police response, which included tear gas and bean bag rounds being shot into crowds, were warranted. Mayor Bill Peduto called for an investigation into the incident.

The bills will now go to his desk.