Community leaders and representatives from law enforcement agencies throughout the region gathered Thursday to discuss and learn more about civil rights.
The Civil Rights Symposium hosted by the FBI was open to the public, and included an interactive workshop on the color of law, which refers to a law enforcement officer's ability, because of his or her authority, to sometimes act outside of the law. Dozens gathered to view videos of police interactions, and determine whether officers were violating civil rights.
Gregory Heeb is a supervisory special agent from the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office. He said because Allegheny County’s has so many independent law enforcement agencies, the FBI has an even greater responsibility to train and support officers in the region. The field office is partnering with the U.S. District Attorney’s office to train Pittsburgh officers upon graduation, before they hit the streets.
Heeb said he recognizes that smaller law enforcement agencies may not have the resources to send officers off for additional training, and that the FBI is available to go to them.
“It is true that if there is an excessive use of force incident or a potential civil rights violation, our squad will investigate that. But I think it’s in everyone’s best point to never let it get to that point,” said Heeb. “That’s why these things are so important.”
After the public session, the symposium included an opportunity for officers to learn more about procedural justice and public corruption.
But Heeb said that beyond training, it’s also important to bring people together.
“When we understand each other and the reason that certain decisions are made it can help us move on through situations that could potentially have a negative impact on the community,” said Heeb. “If we don’t learn from each other in these types of settings, we won’t have the same opportunity later on in a situation that could be a crisis.”
Attendees represented universities, the Urban league, United Way, and more than 15 law enforcement agencies including the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, City of Erie Police Department, Peters Township Police and state and military police.