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City Councilor Burgess proposes 'stop-and-frisk' changes for Pittsburgh Police

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Continuing his quest to change the city's approach to policing, Pittsburgh City Councilor Ricky Burgess on Tuesday introduced legislation that would require police to document their reasons for stopping pedestrians on the street.

This could include using their body cameras to document their reason for a stop, notifying dispatch in advance, or any other method the police chief allows.

If a stop does not end in arrest, officers are required to provide the pedestrian documentation for why they were stopped, unless doing so would compromise confidentiality or an officer's safety.

The spirit of the bill is for transparency and "to prevent racial disparities," and Burgess said it was partly created based on information from annual reports compiled by the Bureau of Police.

Burgess said the measure was not an outright ban on "stop-and-frisk" — the controversial practice in which police detain and carry out a warrantless search of a pedestrian.

"I do think that it could be helpful in limiting cases," he said. "I am going to talk to both community and police. If they think an outright ban is better, I'm willing to amend the legislation and have that conversation."

Burgess says those reports show that going back to 2011, roughly 70% of pedestrian stops involved Black citizens each year, a rate he said is "Vastly disproportionate with our percentage — 23% — of the population," he said. "And being stopped while Black is really what's going on."

The Bureau's 2020 report, for example, shows that there were 3,141 "field contact/warrantless search and seizures" carried out by police that year. Of those, 2,239 involved Black citizens — 71.3% of the total.

Burgess said this legislation could protect pedestrians and give them rights in court if they are arrested.

"Most of these stops do not end in arrest," Burgess said. "So it creates this chilling effect where Black people feel they are being racially profiled."

Burgess recently sponsored a bill that would ban police from stopping motorists for minor violations, like driving with an obstructed window view or lapsed inspection. He said these bills are to give the community "greater confidence in police."

"My interest is to reduce the number of unpleasant, counterproductive police interactions," he said. "And I believe that that will raise the confidence between the African-American community and the police."

Council is set to discuss the bill next Wednesday, but Burgess said he is prepared to talk to public safety and the community about the bill before that.