Target 11: Pittsburgh mayor reacts to undercover officers patrolling South Side

PITTSBURGH — Target 11 has learned that Pittsburgh police have been using undercover officers to patrol the South Side in an effort to curb the uptick in violence.

It’s a controversial tactic that has drawn criticism.

Target 11 broke the story in May that police planned to use officers in plain clothes and unmarked cars to patrol areas on the South Side near East Carson Street that had been plagued by an uptick in violence, including a rash of shootings and fights.

The plan was devised to help curtail the violence.

But the executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, Beth Pittinger, immediately expressed concern, likening it to the controversial so called “jump out” squad that had been used by in the past by Pittsburgh police.

The tactic was banned by then-Mayor Bill Peduto after the arrest of a protester in Oakland during a Black Lives Matter protest a couple years ago.

A white van pulled up and armed men with no identification pulled the man into a van and took off. The arrest sparked outrage and Mayor Peduto said he would not allow that tactic.

“You see people jumping out of an unmarked vehicle, grabbing somebody, and they’re in plain clothes, how do you even know that they’re a police officers,” said Pittinger, when asked about the plan to use undercover officers on the South Side.

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle also questioned Mayor Ed Gainey in June.

“Would you support undercover officers patrolling that area?” asked Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle.

“No, no we had this conversation before on the “jump out” squad and I’m not for that. I’m for communities working together,” said Mayor Gainey back in June.

But during a recent weekly news conference Pittsburgh police confirmed they are using undercover police officers in unmarked cars, and they said it’s making a difference.

The undercover officers wear badges and bullet proof vests with placards that identify them as police.

“We’ve increased the manpower down there, and we are utilizing some undercover plainclothes officers,” said Zone 3 Commander John Fisher, who covers East Carson Street.

On Monday we asked the mayor about the use of undercover officers, and he offered a clarification. He said he supports the use of undercover officers on the South Side, but he does not support the tactic of so called “jump out” arrests that are made without warning or notification.

“I never said we wouldn’t use (undercover officers), what I said is that we weren’t going to take anything off the table, whatever we had to do to make ourselves safe. We will do that. And we’ve done it. If you’ve noticed that among the last three or four weeks, don’t quote me on exact time, we’ve not had any problems on the South Side,” said Mayor Gainey.

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