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Special Pittsburgh police unit prepared for possible protest

PITTSBURGH — Following the death of Antwon Rose in 2018, protests were organized throughout the city of Pittsburgh.

Because of those protests, the police department launched a civil affairs unit, which is a division dedicated to keeping the peace through community engagement.

The division was very active over the summer of 2020 due to the Black Lives Matter movement.

But the office has gone quiet in recent months, and as Channel 11′s Rick Earle discovered, officers are regrouping ahead of this weekend’s planned rally on the North Shore.

“We are ready to go as needed. I know we will be there this Saturday for the protests or rally,” said Sgt. Tiffany Costa, of the Pittsburgh Police Department’s civil affairs unit.

On Saturday, a group called Americans for Freedom will rally on the North Shore to voice their opposition to mask mandates and business closures.

Costa is a member of the eight-member unit created two years ago when protests erupted following the trial of former East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld.

Rosfeld was acquitted in the shooting death of Rose, an unarmed Black teenager.

“At the time, there were six of us on the unit. It has grown to eight officers,” Costa said.

Last summer, officers worked with organizers of different community organizations protesting against police brutality and the death of George Floyd out of Minneapolis.

”Typically at the protests or actions of events, we have civil affairs teams on the ground, trying to work with the leadership of the movement. They try to navigate traffic and give people an opportunity to express their demands,” Costa said.

The unit has received praise from Pittsburgh’s police chief and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who had become increasingly frustrated by repeated clashes between protesters and officers. Peduto removed a commander responsible for overseeing protests and requested an officer from the civil affairs division to lead the command post during protests and also help make tactical decisions.

“Consistently we show up and do our best every day, you know. We’re always trying to build relationships, build trust, build connections. Sometimes that’s harder depending on heightened emotions and tensions, but we are trying our best every single action,” Costa said.

The eight officers in the civil affairs unit were moved back to their original positions when protests died down in the fall.

Law enforcement sources told Target 11 they are concerned that there has been little or no communication with protest organizers from last year and if those protesters return this year they are worried that could lead to problems. The organizers for the rally planned for this weekend have been in constant contact with Pittsburgh Police and obtained a permit from the city to march.

Costa told Channel 11 that the communication has to be ongoing. And Police don’t expect any issues.

”Whenever we are not activated, it is true that everyone goes back to their original and permanent assignments. As far as communicating with leadership and with community members, I mean, the community engagement office and the community resources officers do that daily and that is ongoing and continuing,” Costa said.