City officials mum on police policy change calling for third-party review of excessive-force complaints | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

City officials mum on police policy change calling for third-party review of excessive-force complaints

"It certainly raises questions about their trust in the existing oversight structure of the police department."

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But on Nov. 3, Pittsburgh City Council unanimously approved an agreement with Monaca-based CSI Corporate Security and Investigations, not to exceed $2,000, for "expert advice regarding appropriate police conduct."

As this issue went to press Nov. 10, the city provided a copy of an invoice from CSI as part of the original right-to-know request, which shows the firm billed $1,653 for services including video and document review and "analysis and preparation of reports" as part of a "Pittsburgh police review" of evidence from the "Pride Day Parade." The law department, without further explanation, did not release CSI's reports.

CSI did not respond to a request to comment for this story, but according to its website, the company does everything from investigative research and surveillance to executive protection.

Though its website does not appear to explicitly mention municipalities or law-enforcement agencies as clients, it says that the company's founder and CEO, Louis Gentile, worked for the state police for 17 years and has expertise in "use of force."

McNulty would not say how CSI was selected or precisely how they were involved in the PrideFest investigation. City Councilor Daniel Lavelle, chair of the Committee on Public Safety Services, and council President Bruce Kraus did not return requests for comment.

Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union legal director Vic Walczak says withholding key details won't help assuage the public.

"Unless they're willing to explain a whole lot more about this group, the relationship, the terms of the review, and then to discuss the results themselves, they're not going to get much PR benefit," he says.

Lamb says he couldn't recall other instances where the city paid an outside vendor to review an excessive-force case. He criticized the Peduto administration for its handling of the issue.

"To me, when we're spending public money, unless there's some overriding interest to keep something confidential," the information should be public, Lamb says. "I don't see any reason to keep this confidential.

"Saying the word ‘transparency' and acting as a transparent organization are very different things."

Also at issue is the role of the Citizen Police Review Board, an entity that is supposed to provide independent findings and recommend discipline when allegations of police misconduct surface.

"If you have a good, independent, thorough internal-affairs investigative system," Walczak says, "then you really don't need this. And in Pittsburgh, we've also got CPRB, which has been both underutilized and underappreciated."

The city often doesn't wait until the CPRB has issued its findings before deciding whether to exonerate an officer or settle on specific disciplinary measures.

CPRB executive director Beth Pittinger says it was initially "offensive to me that they would be looking for an outside investigation." She's since changed her mind.

"I think right now the administration has the challenge to demonstrate it's the best it can be when it comes to these kinds of reviews. They want to bolster their credibility."

Still, Pittinger is critical of the decision not to say more about who will be involved in the reviews. "That part of it is not an acceptable answer — it raises the whole specter of suspicion."

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