Mayor Peduto says he has a 'hard time believing that we'd be a safer society without police officers' during interview Monday | Pittsburgh City Paper

Mayor Peduto says he has a 'hard time believing that we'd be a safer society without police officers' during interview Monday

On Monday, Mayor Bill Peduto joined criminal-justice publication The Appeal for a livestreamed interview to offer his thoughts on the movement to defund police, and whether he can see a future without police. Peduto said he would consider shifting some funding for police elsewhere, but that ultimately he doesn't think the community would be safer without police.

Interviewer Emily Galvin-Almanza started off the interview by asking Peduto about his endorsement of the 8 Can't Wait campaign, pointing out that many of the practices the campaign proposes banning have already been banned in Pittsburgh and in many other police departments, but that it hasn't stopped those departments from using those tactics, such as chokeholds.

"We are going to have to do more than retrain our officers. We are going to have to institute new, first-line public safety officials that are able to help people," said Peduto.

Galvin-Almanza also asked Peduto if he would consider reallocating funds from the police department, since they do not have "high closure rates" on things like rape and murder, which are often cited as issues for which the police are necessary.

"It's not a matter of defunding the police. It's a matter of, what is the best way in order to reduce violent crime in an area like Northview Heights?" he said. "Is it by having police or is it by having after-school programs that are teaching kids how to code?"

Since protests began in Pittsburgh over a week ago, Peduto has commended the police for their response to protesters, despite the use of tear gas and non-lethal bullets during a peaceful protest, and searching without a warrant the homes of people who filmed protests from their balconies.

Peduto said that the Pittsburgh Police have not used rubber bullets for "many years" although they do use bean bags (a small bag filled with lead pellets), and he questioned whether tear gas should be used by police in a crowd, but think it still has other strategic uses. He said that he would be open to banning the use of some of these methods, but only for crowd dispersion.

When asked about police brutality, Peduto denied that it was a major issue during his time as mayor.

"Since I've been the mayor, we've had one incident of police brutality," said Peduto in the interview, referencing a 2017 incident in which a Pittsburgh Police officer was fired and convicted of violating civil rights after assaulting a white teenager at Heinz Field.

This is the official incident of police brutality during Peduto's tenure as mayor, as it's the only one in which an officer was convicted. The incident was brought to public attention because it was caught on a security camera.

Toward the end of the interview, Galvin-Almanza asks Peduto if he would consider taking police out of communities if it was requested by those communities.

"In my heart, I believe that there is a role for police. So I would have to be convinced that I would not be putting the people of Pittsburgh in jeopardy or in harm's way," said Peduto. "At the end of the day, my answer would be, 'If it benefits Pittsburgh, I'll do it.' But I have a real hard time believing that we'd be a safer society without police officers."