By Cheryl Bauer
Six months after County Councilpersons DeWitt Walton and Paul Klein proposed legislation to initiate a citizenled oversight committee for the 105+ municipal police departments in Allegheny County, we have made tragically slow progress towards this goal. The proposed board would closely resemble the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, established in 1997 following the 1995 death of Jonny Gammage at the hands of Brentwood police officers.
While the legislation sits in committee, former officer Michael Rosfeld was acquitted of the murder charges he faced for killing Antwon Rose, Jr., in June 2018. Barely one year later, Rayquane Jamal Bowles-Wilds, a 21 year-old Wilkinsburg man, was brutally beaten by several Penn Hills officers during his arrest, after being pulled over for an alleged illegal u-turn.
Officers, recorded by a civilian witness, used a Taser on Mr. Bowles-Wilds while a police dog attacked and other officers twisted, kicked, and pinned his body to the ground. Mr. Bowles-Wilds’ cries and pleas to the officers can be heard clearly throughout the footage. Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton found no issue with the arrest, and has no intention of requiring disciplinary action or retraining of the officers involved in the incident. The public seems to disagree, however, since the office has replied to a number of complaints. Chief Burton cites social media as the problem, not the methods of his officers.
This is exactly why we cannot continue to allow the police to be held accountable only to themselves.
Now more than ever, the Allegheny County Council needs to hear your voices, if we have any hope of this legislation moving past the committee, although there are assurances that it will be voted on by December 2019. But can we wait that long for authorization of real, unbiased citizen oversight? Councilperson Bob Macey has reportedly been a staunch opponent, so District 9 folks, now is the time to call on him to act in the interest of the public and back Bill 10909-18.
Let’s remind all our elected county officials to establish the Independent Police Review Board our county needs. All districts’ County Council representative offices can be reached by phone at 412-350-6490 (a list of representatives by district follows this article), or if you prefer online communication, you can find your representative and a link to contact them directly at https://www.alleghenycounty.us/county-council/ council-members.aspx.
If this legislation does pass, it will require approval by the county executive, Rich Fitzgerald, so he needs to hear that we are counting on him to support this bill. Email the county executive’s office at executive@alleghenycounty. us, or call 412-350-6500. A petition has been started on change.org as well, and is less than three hundred signatures from its goal (search Petition for a CivilianPolice Review Board of Allegheny County, PA).
Contact your County Councilmember today!
Council-at-Large: John DeFazio (President), Samuel
Council District 1, Thomas Baker
Council District 2, Cindy Kirk
Council District 3, Anita Prizio
Council District 4, Patrick Catena
Council District 5, Sue Means
Council District 6, John F. Palmiere
Council District 7, Nicholas Futules (Vice-President)
Council District 8, Vacant Council
District 9, Robert J. Macey Council
District 10, DeWitt Walton Council
District 11, Paul Klein Council
District 12, Robert Palmosina Council
District 13, Denise Ranalli Russell
Cheryl Bauer is a member of the New People Editorial Collective and a very concerned citizen.