After a period of improved Pittsburgh police-community relations, do recent brutality allegations signal a backslide to the bad old days? | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

After a period of improved Pittsburgh police-community relations, do recent brutality allegations signal a backslide to the bad old days?

“We have these incidents coming around like we haven’t seen in a while.”

Page 2 of 2

The incident is currently being reviewed by the bureau’s Office of Professional Standards, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Municipal Investigations and the Citizen Police Review Board.

“The City of Pittsburgh welcomes this review by the FBI, as it provides yet another investigatory layer to this incident,” Peduto said in a statement released Sept. 22. “There is now an internal investigation by the Office of Municipal Investigations and another external review by the Citizen Police Review Board. We will support whatever it takes to get all the facts on this matter, and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will cooperate and provide any assistance necessary to the FBI during their review.” 

But while official investigations get under way, the public is already digesting the tape. Segments of the video, including when an officer can be heard saying, “Shut up, motherfucker,” have already raised red flags. 

“Right off the bat you have the unbecoming conduct that was manifest in the language being used,” says the CPRB’s Pittinger. “That in and of itself reflects poorly on their professionalism and self-control in a high-stress situation. Then you get to the question of whether the force being used was reasonable and necessary.” 

Pittinger says it’s unfortunate that the video might erase some of the goodwill the bureau has built with the community, but she says the recent incident should be a “wake-up call” for the department to go back and look at their policies and how they are ensuring all officers adhere to them.

“It’s infuriating that all the work that so many of them have done over the years can be compromised in a one-minute encounter,” Pittinger says. “We’ll see how they respond. Do they go back and remediate professional training? Do they have to look at the self-discipline of the officers, the maturity level of the officers, are they able to control themselves? Can they manage these encounters without resorting to brawling with somebody, with colorful language to accompany it?”

Criminologist Paul McCauley, a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has followed both the Ford case and the recent incident in the media, and says that in both cases it appears police did not follow procedure. During traffic stops, officers are told not to reach into a vehicle as was done in the Ford case. And McCauley says officers involved in the Sept. 19 incident should have been able to restrain Alderman, without “banging his head on the street.”

“With the officers’ training, experience and combined weight, I’m not sure why they didn’t control [Alderman’s] movements,” says McCauley. “I saw no reason for the officer to use impact force to his head.” McCauley also testified in two trials related to another high-profile police-brutality allegation from Pittsburgh’s past: the 2010 arrest and beating of 17-year-old Jordan Miles. 

For McCauley, these incidents indicate that officers require further training. If policies are in place and officers are not following those policies, he says, leaders in the bureau have to act.

“In all of these incidents, officers should be sent to training so these issues can be addressed,” McCauley says. “Supervisors have to make sure officers are in compliance and when they’re not, corrective measures have to be taken. And it doesn’t have to be negative or putative punishment, it can be positive, like remedial training. We need to have officers acting in a way so that they are safe and protecting citizens.”

And if the city doesn’t address this, advocates say it could be detrimental to not just those citizens injured at the hands of Pittsburgh police, but the city as a whole.

“It really is imperative as a city that we take this as a very serious problem,” says Kierran Young, who has been a vocal advocate for Ford, and who has viewed the footage of the Sept. 19 incident. “We’re trying to encourage people to start their businesses here. If we have cops beating up people outside of a Pink Floyd concert, this is a black eye on the city of Pittsburgh. I think the city has to do some serious damage control.” 

Young says incidents like these weren’t as prevalent under Chief McLay, and he hopes the city will work harder to address them.

“This is a longstanding issue in the city that our mayor, county executive and district attorney really need to address, especially since we’re trying to encourage development here from large corporations like Amazon,” Young says. “We really don’t need the largest police department in the region operating as if they’re a bunch of jack-booted thugs going around beating anybody they feel crosses them.”

Comments (0)