Pittsburgh City Council discussed police reforms on Tuesday as protests about police brutality continue nationwide. Council will weigh several new proposals, including a handful offered by District 9 Councilor Ricky Burgess.
Burgess' legislation includes a bill that would require officers to step in if they witness an officer using inappropriate force or violating someone’s rights. Another would prohibit the city from buying military equipment and weaponry. A third would take $250,000 from the budget for police salaries and put it into a violence-prevention fund.
“The best way to improve public safety is not just additional police officers, but rather by increasing the community's confidence in the police," Burgess said. "It is time to have an open, inclusive conversation about the future of policing in this country [and the] legislation I introduced today would begin that conversation.”
The use of military equipment by police has long been controversial, but the police reaction to recent protests -- at which police in riot gear have used tear gas and rubber bullets -- have brought extra scrutiny to how police are equipped.
An unusally large number of public speakers addressed council, calling for it to reduce the police budget and use some of the money that goes to public safety for housing and community resources for black and brown neighborhoods. Some speakers said that the $250,000 transfer from police to violence-prevention was not enough.
There were moments of tension between councilors as well. Councilor Bruce Kraus introduced a bill that would allow the city and Citizen Police Review Board to hire a third party that would help review use-of-force tactics and police-citizen relations.
Burgess said the bill would simply delay reforms that are already overdue.
“I don’t think this is the right direction, I understand what it is,” he said. “But it is a frivolous and somewhat silly piece of legislation. ... In my opinion, [it] would be of very little consequence.”
Kraus said he appreciated the concern, but he has been in constant communication with the community about what they would like to see.
“I’m glad to hear that you’re finally concerned about communities of color,” Burgess said.
Councilor Daniel Lavelle, who is the only African-American member of council other than Burgess, said he was glad for the protests that have marched through city streets.
“I’m tired of a lot of what’s happening to black and brown people, and tired of the rallies and protest, and just worn out,” Lavelle said. Still, he said, "I’m grateful for all of those who are not tired and continue to take to the streets, and protest and march.”
Council is set to discuss the bills next week.