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A week after the Stanton Heights shooting that left three Pittsburgh Police officers dead, County Executive Dan Onorato held a press conference on April 13, to discuss whether anything could have prevented the April 4 tragedy.

"We're going to deal with this publicly," Onorato pledged. And that's what happened -- for about 24 hours.

Days after the shooting, concerns arose that the county's 911 call center had failed to notify police that suspect Richard Poplawski had weapons. Robert Full, the county's chief of Emergency Services, confirmed that, but said the call-taker had done well in her training and there were no missed warning signs along the way. "This wasn't a problem child by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

He pointed out that the call center requires more hours of training than is mandated by Harrisburg. The center is "operating at peak performance," he said, but it fields 1.5 million calls a year, and "There is no room for error."

Onorato noted that ultimately, the shooter is the one responsible for the officers' deaths. Poplawski, 22, is accused of killing the three men, who were responding to a 911 call from his mother to have him removed from her house.

The emphasis at the press conference, though, was on making the response system as transparent as possible.

Onorato said he had no objections to releasing the 911 tape from the incident (though the decision rested with the city, which he said owns the recording). Full, meanwhile, invited reporters to tour the 911 call center. He said officials "have done a complete top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top review" of the county's emergency-response system -- but pledged to ask the National Emergency Number Association to conduct an outside performance audit.

Allegheny County Councilor Jim Burn, meanwhile, scheduled a Public Safety Committee meeting on the 911 call center for April 15. "We will discuss and analyze the County's 9-1-1 procedures and the tragic events of Saturday April 4th," Burn said in a release.

But all that changed the day after Onorato's press conference.

On April 14, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning issued an order that prevents anyone involved with the case -- including county employees -- from commenting in any way that may affect the outcome.

As a result, Burn's Public Safety hearing turned into a conversation on the general practices of Emergency Services. With the county's solicitor sitting at the table, questions were steered away from the April 4 shootings.

And it's no longer quite so easy to gauge the call center's performance. When CP asked to see a copy of Emergency Service's most recent outside performance audit, Onorato spokesman Kevin Evanto replied in an April 16 e-mail, "The best way to proceed is to file an open records request."

That request is pending.



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