Pittsburgh Launches Public Safety Multicultural Liaison Unit

PITTSBURGH, PA (November 29, 2017) The City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety has launched its Multicultural Liaison Unit, a community policing and immigration integration strategy, Mayor William Peduto announced today. 

The MLU was proposed in the Mayor's 2014 Welcoming Pittsburgh plan and further established through legislation introduced early this year by Councilman Dan Gilman. 

The unit is comprised of members of the Mayor's Office, Public Safety and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, who work closely with members of the Welcoming Pittsburgh Advisory Committee to ensure consistent community input and community-driven solutions.  

The MLU's mission is to build trustworthy and sustainable relationships among Public Safety employees (first responders) and the immigrant and refugee communities through proactive and community-driven strategies. Currently, within these communities, there can be a lack of trust toward Public Safety employees. As a result, crimes and safety concerns are not properly reported; emergency medical care is not requested; and new residents are unable to comfortably integrate into their communities. The lack of protection felt by foreign born residents has allowed this community to prioritize its fears ahead of receiving the required, and deserved, protection and service provided by the City of Pittsburgh’s Pubic Safety employees.  

"Pittsburgh's past was built by immigrants, and so will its future. This unit will be key to making sure all of those in our city feel welcome, especially when interacting with the first responders who so often are the first government faces to come into contact with Pittsburgh newcomers," Mayor Peduto said. 

"I want to thank Mayor Peduto and Public Safety Director Hissrich for acting quickly to establish the Multicultural Liaison Unit, which was created under my City for All legislative package," said Councilman Gilman. "By translating documents into several languages, boosting outreach efforts, and advancing cultural understanding among all public safety personnel, this unit will help officers to more effectively protect and serve Pittsburgh's growing immigrant and refugee communities and build a safer and more welcoming city for all."  

"Pittsburgh is a multi-cultural city. There is value to building understanding between our diverse communities and our Public Safety employees. We look forward to the successes that are sure to come from this important initiative," said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich. 

Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said, "This effort will improve the capacity of our officers to serve the increasingly diverse residents of the City of Pittsburgh and to continue to strengthen community ties in our efforts to reduce crime." 

The Public Safety Multicultural Liaison Unit aims to diminish current fears by actively engaging the immigrant and refugee community members through three essential initiatives: communication and language access, outreach and education, and multicultural trainings. 

Communication and Language Access  

Welcoming Pittsburgh conducted a series of community meetings and through feedback from those meetings, meetings with other stakeholders within the immigrant and refugee communities, and further research. The City was able to conclude that there was a lack of knowledge on Public Safety laws and ordinances amongst the immigrant and refugee community members. A language barrier was identified as the primary reason for this lack of knowledge. 

Although there are many languages represented within the City of Pittsburgh, the unit will focus on the five most common languages among immigrant communities: 1) Arabic 2) Chinese 3) Nepalese 4) Spanish and 5) Swahili. 

Watch and Learn videos will be accessible through the City of Pittsburgh website, our social media platforms, and our national partners (i.e. Welcoming America). These brief videos will feature Pubic Safety employees from Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services simplistically explaining basic laws and protocol, how to request emergency services, fire prevention and any other information deemed important by the Department of Public Safety. The videos will be recorded in English; however, subtitles in the six identified languages will be included at the bottom of the screen. In addition, voiceovers of the six identified languages will be created as well. Each language will have its own series of Watch and Learn videos.  

Public Safety literature will be translated and disseminated at community meetings and outreach events. Translated literature will be available for leaders within the immigrant and refugee community to duplicate and house at various facilities within their communities.  

Outreach and Education  

Outreach and Education initiatives are critical to the success of the Multicultural Liaison Unit, with outreach efforts intended to be immersed in the communities where different immigrant and refugee populations are located. To build connections with the communities the City will plan events within the region of the specific immigrant and refugee populations.  

The programming will include, but not be limited to: 1) Public Safety Community Meetings: These meetings are generally requested by community leaders to cover a selected topic to address a current community need. Community members will have the opportunity to learn more about Public Safety services and ask Public Safety related questions. 2) Know Your Rights Sessions: A collaboration with various City departments, community leaders, community organizations and legal counsel for immigrant and refugee community members 3) Lunch and Learn: Once a week, community members will learn about Public Safety related topics such as traffic safety education, emergency and non-emergency calls, reporting options, how to become a Public Safety employee, etc. 4) Immigrant and Refugee Public Safety Academy: The academy will be a replica of the Citizens Police Academy offered by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. 5) Social Engagements: Police officers will engage with the community by participating in friendly competitions of sports (i.e. basketball, soccer etc.) suggested by the community members. 

Multicultural Trainings  

Multicultural training will be incorporated into the new recruit training for each of the Public Safety Bureaus. These trainings will help first responders effectively address and support the public safety needs of residents with various cultural backgrounds and limited English language skills. 

Multicultural Overviews for each Police Zone will provide information about the various nationalities represented in that zone. The objective is to help officers understand, respect and appropriately respond to cultural norms when interacting with immigrant and refugee community members. Initial outreach efforts will take place in the following communities identified as those with most need: East Liberty, North Side, Northview Heights, Oakland, South Hills (Carrick). 


For the duration of 2017 the unit is working closely with Police, Fire, EMS, Welcoming Pittsburgh Advisory Council and community leaders to design programming and implantation strategies for the three areas of focus. During this time, the Multicultural Unit will also complete a department-wide literature assessment to determine additional Public Safety educational resources to translate. Translated material will be available for upcoming community meetings and social engagement events. 

2018 Quarter 1: 

  • Community meetings and social engagement events  

  • Lunch and Learn workshops 

  • Know Your Rights Session 

  • Watch and Learn Videos recorded, translated, edited and published to website for viewing  

2018 Quarter 2 and beyond:  

  • Community meetings and social engagement events  

  • Lunch and Learn workshops 

  • Know Your Rights Session 

  • Multicultural Trainings   


The efforts mentioned above will expand within the Bureau of Police and with other emergency responders. These critically important City employees present the first opportunity to develop more culturally aware and empathetic interactions with immigrants, and provide the language access resources that Federal funding mandates in serving English learners.  

Developing effective programs and working with first-line emergency providers will provide an important first step in expanding awareness and training throughout all City departments and staff. The Mayor’s Office will work to ensure continuing input, improvements, and partnership with employees who will be on the front lines of implementing, participating, and enforcing the program. The expanded practices and training tools will be made available to the public and partners as a means of ensuring broad support and compliance in building accessible, culturally empathetic resources, beyond City government. 




Timothy McNulty
Communications Director
Mayor's Office