COUNCIL MEMBER DEWITT WALTON SPEAKS DURING A MEETING OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTRY COUNCIL PRIOR TO THEIR VOTE ON THE CREATION OF AN INDEPENDENT POLICE REVIEW BOARD INSDE ALLEGHENY COUNTY COURTHOUSE ON 8-27-2019.
By Cheryl Bauer
Photo by Nate Smallwood/Tribune-Review
In January 2020, a new legislative session began for the Allegheny County Council, including new members Bethany Hallam (D, Council-at-Large), Liv Bennett (D, District 13), and Tom Duerr (D, District 5), all of whom have made passage of a bill to establish a county-wide Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) a priority, after the council failed to pass the bill proposed by council members DeWitt Walton and Paul Klein in 2019. Despite overwhelming public support for the bill, nine of fourteen council members voted in opposition, citing shortcomings in the bill, as well as concerns with budget feasibility and interest of municipal police departments within the county.
Councilmember Liv Bennett and Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network held a public comment session in Duquesne Township on February 19, the first in a series of comment sessions around the county to hear from the public what they can do to address the shortcomings of the originalbill within the scope of the PA Home Rule Charter, and to garner more support within the law enforcement community.
People from all parts of the county attended in support, with overflow into the hall and adjacent rooms and a wish list topped with subpoena power to compel officers to appear before the review board and assurance that complaints filed will be addressed with appropriate corrective actions. Councilmember Bennett, considering how participation could be incentivized to local police departments, proposed offering assistance to local bureaus to obtain accreditation through programs such as the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Program, and offering review of department policies and procedures.
Proponents of the CPRB for Allegheny County have been fighting for greater police accountability and believe that it is the key to better community-police relationships. Municipal police departments stand to save money spent dealing with lawsuits and lost time. The public cannot accept continued loss of life as the cost of police protection and service to our communities.
Follow Bethany Hallam and Liv Bennett on Facebook for updates on their plans to hold additional conversations in communities across the county, and consider attending to show your support. You can also call your county council-member at 412- 350-6490 to ask them to support the bill and share any thoughts you have about how the CPRB can best serve our county.
Cheryl Bauer is a member of the TMC and the NewPeople Editorial Collective.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 3. April, 2020. All rights reserved.