To Serve and Object | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

To Serve and Object

Reluctant nominees to the police review board hope it actually works in the future

"To this day I still haven't received an official word from city authorities that I've been nominated," says Richard Carrington, one of three people named by Mayor Tom Murphy to fill long-standing vacancies on the Citizen Police Review Board. "All I got was a call asking that I submit my resume" -- and that, he says, was two months ago. The mayor and City Council, which must vote on his nomination, "are not aware of what they created in forming this board or how they arrived at the people they've called to serve on it."

Carrington says he didn't know he was on Murphy's list until he read it in the press last month. He was nominated alongside Malik Bankston, executive director of the nonprofit Kingsley Association in East Liberty, and former city police Commander Gwen Elliot. Carrington runs a Beltzhoover "safe house" where troubled youth go for food and shelter, and serves on Beltzhoover's community development corporation. He also heads the nonprofit Voices Against Violence.

Bankston discovered his nomination the same way. Both say they submitted their resumes with reluctance, given their other community commitments, but will make time to serve if approved -- a move that could take place either as City Paper goes to press or a month from now.

Since April, the CPRB hasn't been able to meet to review civilian complaints against police; four of its seven seats have remained empty, awaiting Murphy's action. The city's police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, has long stonewalled the CPRB by refusing to allow police officers to testify at hearings for fear of self-incrimination should a case reach court. The CPRB has been less than successful in getting police officials to respond to many of their recommendations.

"The mayor has the ability to exempt [police officers] from prosecution in court but he refuses to give them the exemption, so they won't testify and they don't want to testify," says City Councilor Sala Udin (D-Hill District).

Neither have CPRB-recommended sanctions been accepted by Pittsburgh police; they contradict union contracts, law enforcement officials say. Thus, the board, created by special referendum in May 1997, has long been seen by many as a mere token -- a way of appeasing the citizenry.

"If it is a token then I will expose it for what it is," says Carrington. "Either you empower [CPRB] or stop wasting our time. I won't allow them to put on a façade for the city. I'll tell you now, there are many who aren't going to agree with my line of thinking if I'm placed on this board."

Says Bankston: "The people in this city who organized and fought for passage of the referendum that created this board obviously were not looking for a charade process. I don't think the process is perfect. It is but one mechanism by which hopefully we can strike a balance and at least call attention to some practices by the police."

To give CPRB more teeth they will examine the operations of similar boards nationwide, says Bankston, especially those with subpoena power. He and Carrington both acknowledge that making the CPRB more effective will be tough.

Jokes Bankston, "When people congratulate me on the board nomination I tell them, 'No, condolences are in order.'"