Pittsburgh City Council debating referendum to expand powers of citizens police review board

Pittsburgh City Council debating referendum to expand powers of citizens police review board

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh City Council is debating a referendum to expand the powers of the citizens police review board.

Currently, the group doesn’t have any legal authority and can only make recommendations. On Wednesday, council received input from residents about the new proposal.

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During a virtual meeting, residents spoke out about the legislation calling for a referendum that would allow voters to decide if the CPRB should have more power to investigate Pittsburgh Police officers.

“We need meaningful police accountability and transparency if we are to restore trust between the police and the communities they are meant to serve and protect,” said one resident.

While most of the speakers voiced support, some people -- including Tim Stevens of the Black Political Empowerment Project -- worry it could have the reverse effect.

“My concern is if something that is meant to be good is bad ... and actually curtailing the board and inserting the city’s influence in a way that does not currently exist,” Stevens said.

Councilman Ricky Burgess proposed the referendum that would require police officers to cooperate with the CPRB during investigations. Currently, officers can decline to talk unless they are subpoenaed to appear at a public hearing.

The referendum would also require the police chief to wait to discipline an officer until the board’s investigation is complete.

Beth Pittinger, head of the CPRB, said during the past few years more officers have been willing to come forward. And she welcomes the expanded powers.

“Anything that empowers the board to expedite its work without the hindrance of artificial obstructions and obstructionist attitudes towards the board would be a very positive move,” Pittinger said.

Burgess hopes to get the referendum on the November ballot.

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