PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said changes are coming over how the Bureau of Police responds to protests within the city.
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In a statement sent to Channel 11, Peduto said he is assigning a new Incident Commander to oversee protests. There will be new seats at command posts for Civil Affairs and Public Safety Community Engagement staff “who will make sure that responses to protest activity are not just tactical in nature, but balanced with the essential goals of improving police-community relations and protecting 1st Amendment rights.”
There will be a new oversight and command structure for the Police Special Response Teams that are trained in crowd-control measures. However, they will no longer be the primary units to respond to incidents and protests.
Arrest tactics similar to what occurred over the weekend, where plainclothes officers emerged from what was called an unmarked vehicle, will no longer be permitted.
“Why do you think these issues continue to happen?” asked Channel 11 Reporter Aaron Martin.
“Well, going back, its the same personnel. The message has been clear that we want change and the message has been clear as to how much force should be utilized,” Peduto said. “The message obviously hasn’t gotten through. So we’ll change the policies and we’ll change the personnel.”
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich and Police Chief Scott Schubert said they respect and support the Mayor’s decision and will continue working with Peduto to implement changes.
“To the men and women of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, we appreciate the tireless hard work and dedication you demonstrate each and every day, especially under extremely challenging circumstances. We will do everything in our power to provide you with the leadership you need and deserve during this time,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich.
“Our officers are as skilled with adapting to change as they are with serving and protecting the people of Pittsburgh day in and day out, without hesitation and without question. Their expertise and involvement will be instrumental to ensuring these changes will result in a safer, more inclusive, and more compassionate Pittsburgh,” said Police Chief Scott Schubert.
This announcement comes after days of protests outside the mayor’s home following the arrest of a man by plainclothes police officers on Aug. 15. Matthew Cartier, 25, was arrested and charged after police said he was repeatedly warned to get out of the street and stop blocking traffic during a Black Lives Matter protest in Shadyside and Oakland. The event was caught on cell phone video and quickly went viral on social media.
“I found out about the arrest minutes after it happened, and I have serious concerns over the tactics,” Peduto said during a news conference the next day.
Protesters have repeatedly demonstrated outside Peduto’s home, saying he is not listening to their message. On Wednesday night, Peduto listened to the group’s concerns and demands for nearly two hours. The group of protesters was deemed an “unlawful assembly” an hour later and police ordered the crowd to leave or be arrested.
Protest organizers claim they were directed to Mellon Park nearby. When the crowd neared the area, they were ordered to clear the street and disperse. A police spokesperson said a protester assaulted an officer and pepper spray had to be used.
Here is Mayor Peduto’s statement in full:
“When I raised my hand and took the oath of office in 2014 my guiding principle was to reform and change Pittsburgh government across all departments and offices, including the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The overarching goal was to provide safe, inclusive and equal opportunities for every Pittsburgher regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or immigration status, which is key to protecting the diversity that makes our city so special.
I have repeatedly watched interactions between police and protesters that escalated to uses of less-lethal weapons, arrest methods and other actions that I do not support, and which run counter to our common principles. This is not the reform I wanted, and that I continue to believe in today.
As a result I am immediately making the following changes.
We will be assigning a new Incident Commander to oversee protests, and additionally there will be new seats at command posts for Civil Affairs and Public Safety Community Engagement staff who will make sure that responses to protest activity are not just tactical in nature, but balanced with the essential goals of improving police-community relations and protecting 1st Amendment rights.
We will be assigning a new oversight and command structure for the Police Special Response Teams (SRTs); these units trained in crowd-control methods will not be used as the primary units to respond to incidents and protests, and only dispatched during narrowly-defined situations when absolutely necessary to protect the public health. The use of SRT units at these events will be subject to clear, written guidelines that city officials are working on now, and will be made public once finalized.
These guidelines will formalize that jump-out arrests of protesters by non-uniformed police in unmarked vehicles — which I ordered to be halted on Monday — are not permitted. In a related move, all police units will be barred from wearing military-style camouflaged uniforms at such events as well.
Police Chief Scott Schubert and I are reinforcing to all officers the need to protect media covering these events. I fully support the unabridged 1st Amendment rights of the press, and I want them to freely monitor activity at protests on behalf of the public. Their presence and coverage are the backbone of transparency, accountability and democracy, and I apologize if that was hindered in any way on Wednesday.
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, Chief Schubert and I are working together in coming weeks to expand the role of the Pittsburgh Police Community Engagement office to expand their oversight and decision making of the Civil Affairs Unit, police recruitment and other proactive programs the Bureau operates that are critical to reestablishing trust, confidence and positive relationships between police and all they protect and serve.
We will be announcing a new position to head this office and report directly to Chief Schubert.”
Cox Media Group