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Pittsburgh Council delays vote to 'strengthen' bill regulating pedestrian stops by police

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday held off on giving final approval to a bill that would regulate pedestrian stops by police in order to consider suggestions for amending the bill.

Councilor Ricky Burgess held the bill, for which council members had given preliminary approval last week, saying community input received since then would "strengthen" the bill.

The legislation would require officers to announce their reasons for stopping pedestrians before actually doing so. It was proposed to address inequities in policing, as "stop-and-frisks," — as such stops are called — disproportionately affect people of color.

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Ralph Bangs, the former associate director of the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh, and Tim Stevens, chair and CEO of theBlack Political Empowerment Project, submitted suggestions for amendments.

As currently written, the bill says officers must document their reason for stopping a pedestrian if they have "reasonable suspicion" to do so.

A proposed amendment to that language would define "reasonable suspicion" as an officer being able to "point to some particular and objective fact that the suspect was, or was about to be, engaged in criminal activity."

Other suggested changes: Not allowing police to arrest someone solely for "asking questions, talking back or verbally opposing or challenging police during a stop," or for behavior they deem disrespectful.

Police also would be required to inform citizens that they have the right to file complaints with the Bureau of Police and the Citizens Police Review Board if they disagree with their treatment by police.

"We are not saying that police officers cannot stop pedestrians," Burgess said. "[We are saying] simply that they must vocalize the reason for the stop. We cannot police our way to safety."

The bill will be discussed again Wednesday at council's standing committee meeting, but Burgess said he does not think the bill will pass for at least another two weeks.

Also before council ended its meeting Tuesday, Burgess denounced a weekend shooting on the South Side that prompted the owners of a neighborhood business to announce plans to close because of violence there.

"The gun manufacturers are death dealers in this country. They are profiting off the misery of people," he said. "And not only are they death-dealers, [but] the Republican party is part of the problem. They have blocked any responsible gun legislation.

"We've done a war on drugs," Burgess added. "We need to do a war on guns."

During the meeting, Burgess introduced a bill calling for the city to partner with the Center for Employment Opportunities to create a program that would provide job opportunities for people who have recently returned home after a period of incarceration.

"That [would] use formerly incarcerated people to do some lawn care, some maintenance of vacant properties, to clean up vacant lots," he said. "It also pays them every day."

Burgess said the grant-funded program would also provide job training and work readiness for its participants. Re-integrating people into their communities after they return home is part of the way to reduce gun violence by providing them with employment and the opportunity to earn their own money, Burgess said.

"Although it seems separate it is not," he said. "It is part and parcel of reducing gun violence and reducing crime in our city by giving those who are returning home a bridge to employment and . . . income and the skill level in order to make themselves have a better life.