June 22, 2020
Dear Members of the Allegheny County Black Activist/Organizer Collective,
First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to present your demands to my office. I am committed to creating safer and healthier communities, investing in critical services, advancing racial equity and racial justice, reforming our criminal justice system, and uplifting, protecting, and improving the quality of life for our Black and Brown neighbors, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and immigrants and refugees.
As our nation, our region, and our city honor the memory of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Antwon Rose II, and so many other Black Lives lost to police-involved violence, your passion, energy, and voice on how to move forward are valued and cherished. Your continued engagement and hard work will be invaluable as the City of Pittsburgh and our partners carry out these important initiatives and strive to build a more equitable Pittsburgh. Meaningful change will not happen overnight, but we must do our part everyday to eradicate the racial disparities that are so plainly evident in our city and our society and have been for generations.
As you requested, my response to each of your demands and the actions that we, as the City of Pittsburgh, can and will take and have taken are outlined below. While some of the demands fall solely within the jurisdiction of another level of government, others are within the City’s authority. In the formation and implementation of each of the initiatives listed below, community engagement and input will be vital.
1. Defund the Police and Fund Black Communities
Since taking office, I have been committed to investing in our neighborhoods and building a Pittsburgh for all. I remain committed to providing funding for initiatives that advance racial equity and important projects and programs that uplift and protect Black lives, including safer streets, affordable and healthy housing, commercial district revitalization, enhanced neighborhood parks and recreation centers, workforce development programs, and more. I am focused on rebalancing our City’s Capital and Operating Budgets to move towards a more holistic, public health-driven, and community-guided approach to public safety.
Our Office of Equity, one of only five such agencies in the nation, is dedicated to providing economic opportunity to and uplifting Pittsburgh’s communities of color. Through the Rec2Tech program, which transforms our recreation centers into after-school classrooms where children can learn coding and game design, we have provided hundreds of children with opportunities to build 21st century skills that will benefit their future. Through the Summer Learn and Earn program, we have provided meaningful summer employment to thousands of Pittsburgh kids. Our My Brother’s Keeper Initiative works to create a brighter future for young Black men and Black boys. The Urban Redevelopment Authority has refocused its efforts on neighborhood-level investment in communities of color to build black wealth, create access to homeownership, develop and maintain safe and affordable housing, and more.
Still, there is a lot more work to be done, and that is why I am committed to applying a lens of racial equity to all of the initiatives we create and in all of the projects we fund. We have partnered with the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE) to include a racial equity lens in our budgeting process. We have also partnered with Living Cities to transform our contracting and purchasing polices and procedures to encourage greater participation from MWBE firms. I am committed to listening to Black and Brown voices as we develop new programs and build on the progress we’ve made with existing programs. I plan to continue seeking community input and working with City Councilmembers to ensure that the City’s Operating and Capital Budgets in 2021 and beyond reflect our moral priorities as a community.
I recently launched an Office of Community Health and Safety, which will redirect social and public health services, including harm reduction, suicide prevention, mental health services, youth engagement, homelessness services, trans-health and well-being, and more, from Police Officers to the social workers and public health experts who are trained to carry out these critical services. I will work to adequately fund and empower this new agency. Most important to the formation of this new agency will be your voice and engagement; we will be relying on our neighbors’ input to ensure that the City is responding to the most important social service and public health needs in each neighborhood. We will continue to evaluate the types of situations that may require an alternative type of first responder, and we will work to decrease overutilization of public safety resources and offer assistance to all of our neighbors.
This work will build off the many reforms we initiated as part of the original cohort of cities in President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task force. This included being one of the first cities in the country to require all officers to go through implicit bias training. I have announced that this will become an annual requirement for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
I established the Pittsburgh Community Task Force on Police Reform, a diverse and unique group of community advocates and cross-sector leaders, to conduct a thorough community engagement process, review current police practices, and offer people-centric solutions for improving police-community relations and making Pittsburgh a better and safer place for all, especially in our Black communities. This Task Force is an important aspect in our commitment to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Pledge, which charges the City with reforming our Police Bureau with community input. I am confident that the Task Force will create community-focused recommendations and implementation plans that boost the community’s trust in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
As Mayor, I implemented the Gender Equity Commission. While the United States sadly remains one of five countries not to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Pittsburgh has officially adopted this initiative. We commissioned a study with the University of Pittsburgh that shined the light of transparency on the inequity and disparity across numerous metrics that face Black women in Pittsburgh. We all know there is tremendous work to be done to improve the quality of life, health and economic opportunity for Black women. The work being done by the Gender Equity Commission is leading the nation and last year we were awarded CEDAW Global Leadership Award by the United Nations NGO Committee on the Status of Women in recognition of the work being done.
I recently announced the creation of an LGBTQIA+ Commission to serve as a liaison between City Hall and Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ residents. By centering LGBTQIA+ voices, especially trans women of color who face disportionate rates of discrimination and are murdered at higher rates than any other community, we can improve the lives our LGBTQIA+ neighbors. I also support legislation sponsored by City Councilmembers Burgess and Lavelle to create a Racial Equity Commission to combat institutional racism and increase racial equity in everything we do in City government.
As our city recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disportionately impacted communities and residents of color, it is more important than ever to double down on our efforts to fund projects and programs that uplift, support, and protect Black and Brown neighbors. It is imperative that we ensure that all of Pittsburgh can recover from this unprecedented pandemic in an equitable way. I will continue to allocate City funding and advocate for our State and Federal governments and philanthropic community to join us in investing in a Pittsburgh for all.
While I am proud of the progress we’ve made to advance racial equity and build safer and healthier communities, I am committed to taking action to reform our Bureau of Police in a meaningful and community-driven way, while still investing in social and public health services, in our neighborhoods, and in our people, especially people of color.
2. Demilitarize the Police
I will evaluate Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief’s Order 12-7 entitled “Discharge of Firearms and Less-Lethal Weapons,” which governs when and how “less-lethal weapons” are utilized. We will work with the Community Task Force and experts around the country to make sure our policies and practices reflect our commitment to community safety and free speech.
I will also charge my Pittsburgh Community Task Force on Police Reform with studying best practices and making recommendations to modify Pittsburgh’s policies on the acquisition and use of various types of weaponry. It is important to note that the City has not been participating in the purchase of any military surplus for a number of years. It is always important to reassess our current practices to ensure that our public safety approach is one that is rooted in protecting and serving the community and carried out with equipment appropriate for civilian settings.
As part of being one of the first cities to fully endorse the “8 Can’t Wait Campaign,” I have been and will continue to assess internal policies and Chief’s Orders that govern the use of force to ensure that:
I fully endorse legislation sponsored by Pennsylvania State Representatives Summer Lee and Ed Gainey which would prohibit police from using deadly force during arrests except in cases with imminent threats of harm. I was honored to support this legislation from the very start and offer my full support to get this passed. I also support efforts by other Pennsylvania State Legislators to further define and limit use of force.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has partnered with the Israeli government around counterterrorism work, not neighborhood policing, in the past. As part of our comprehensive review, I will also carefully review whether or not this program is beneficial moving forward.
3. End the Criminalization of Black People
I appreciate and rely on community members, organizers, and activists in the effort of continued public engagement. The City of Pittsburgh stands with you in solidarity in not only expressing your freedom of speech but also holding public servants responsible when warranted. Information and evidence are at the forefront of all public safety decision making. It is the mission of the City of Pittsburgh to provide a positive, community-based approach to public safety.
I am committed to the continued growth and support of the community policing we launched back in April 2017. The community must be the focal point when it comes to public safety. Public safety officials exist to keep communities safe and there must be coordination and representation from communities. Additionally, twice a year, we sponsor an opportunity for citizens in the Pittsburgh community to become closely acquainted with the roles and responsibilities of the Police Bureau through Citizens Police Academy. The Pittsburgh Student's Police Academy brings the police and Pittsburgh's high school community closer together in a setting that offers a sample of police training to each participant.
Additionally, as Mayor, I have worked with the Chief to create a Civilian Affairs Unit fully dedicated to positive engagement with the public. We have significant increased the number of Community Affairs Officers in each zone and established the Neighborhood Resource Officer program to rebuild closer ties between the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the communities they serve.
In addition to Community Relations Officers, Citizen's Police Academy, and Student Police Academy, we are open to continued conversations on how to build upon the community-policing model. Community members must be present and active with the Department of Public Safety so the community is best served.
Furthermore, we maintain a database to better track data on traffic stops, we cut saturation patrols of majority-minority neighborhoods, supported the decriminalization of marijuana locally and supported statewide legalization efforts, supported and implemented “Ban the Box” legislation, worked with the CPRB and ACLU to try and create clearer guidelines for protests/marches and the City of Pittsburgh has halted any predictive policing programs and is reviewing all work to ensure that policing is done without implicit or explicit bias.
In Fall 2018, the City’s Department of City Planning invited the Pittsburgh community to participate in a panel on public engagement and a Public Engagement Working Group to review and renew the approach to public participation. The Public Engagement Working Group included a diverse and broad range of experts in public engagement, including individuals representing local universities, public schools, faith-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, and community organizations. Public Engagement will continue to be at the forefront of my administration, and our public engagement efforts are useless without the value and experience community members share with us.
I promise to continue to lead all departments in work for the benefit and advancement of Pittsburgh’s residents. The Public Engagement Guide outlines a framework for how the City should conduct engagement efforts through planning processes and establishes guidelines for improving the approach to engage more broadly.
4. Remove All Police from Schools
Currently, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police only operates within Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) on an emergency basis when called by PPS, and school resource officers are employed by PPS. While PPS serves as the governing body for all policies and programs for public education in Pittsburgh (not the City of Pittsburgh), I fully understand the need for opportunities to address gaps when it relates to students in public schools. Mental health and emotional support are only a few of the unmet needs of students. Additional staff to support these issues may serve as best practices, and the City of Pittsburgh invites the opportunity to collaborate on solutions.
In Pennsylvania, local school districts exist because state law created them. As specified in PUBLIC SCHOOL CODE OF 1949 Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, No. 14 State Law outlines the responsibilities of school districts, and school districts act as localized regulatory agents of the state rather than as completely independent bodies. The City of Pittsburgh is bound to comply with the code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania concerning policing in Pittsburgh Public Schools. Specifically, PUBLIC SCHOOL CODE OF 1949 - Act of November 27, 2019, P.L. 662, No. 91. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) oversees municipal police training curriculum for all municipality police forces. Any effort to amend these laws would require action by the state legislature.
I have advocated and will continue to advocate for responsible community policing models for all local police municipalities. Collaborating with the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, the City of Pittsburgh is committed to employing strategies, examining policies, and developing evidence through research to reduce implicit bias, enhance procedural justice, and promote racial reconciliation. These are all in addition to the curriculum from the MPOETC.
Additionally, I want to further partner in positive ways with Pittsburgh Public Schools. I fully support wrap around services being provided in our schools and partnering on these support services outside of school time. As Mayor, I partnered with PPS to create a Public Safety CTE program at Westinghouse and want to see that program expanded. Also, during my administration, for the first time ever, the City took money from the operating budget and allocated to enhancements to pre-k in our city. I am supportive of and committed to the implementation of universal high quality pre-k.
I am committed to the continued growth of and support of student's literacy through the partnership and efforts of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a free program for any child who lives in the City of Pittsburgh age 0-5 to receive one book a month in the mail until their fifth birthday. When they turn five, they will have their own library of up to 60 books. Since the launch in February 2019 with support from the Benter Foundation, the program has grown to include over 3,200 local children and recently sent its 30,000th book.
I will continue to support the emotional and long-term unmet needs of students and families. At the end of 2018, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded a total of $1.5 million to housing authorities in Pittsburgh, Chester, and Bucks County for the Family Unification Program (FUP). It provides rental assistance to parents being separated from their children or to those who are at risk of separation. Additionally, this funding is used to help provide stable housing for young adults (ages 18-24) who have aged-out of the foster care system.
5. Make All Collective Bargaining with Police Public
Pennsylvania’s Act 111 of 1968, The Policeman and Fireman Collective Bargaining Act, presents significant challenges to the City of Pittsburgh’s ability to create greater transparency and accountability. Rather than providing an open and transparent process, Act 111 mandates binding arbitration to resolve disputes and settle contracts, thus providing an unelected arbitration panel, rather than democratically elected officials, with final say on compensation, working conditions, and conditions of employment. Act 111 has never been amended since its passage more than fifty years ago.
Without meaningful Act 111 reform in Harrisburg, adverse arbitration decisions will continue to hinder the City of Pittsburgh’s efforts around building a more transparent and accountable police bureau. I have urged State Legislators to amend Act 111 in order to limit the scope of bargaining over disciplinary procedures or specifically limit a labor arbitrator's authority to modify or overturn disciplinary action taken by the Bureau in the interest of public safety, trust, and accountability. In addition, I have called for Act 111 to be amended to adopt the "public policy exception," which would enable cities to challenge an arbitrator's decision to return an officer to work on the basis that their continued employment is adverse to the public interest. All other public sector unions, save for those under Act 111, are subject to this exception. These changes must take place in Harrisburg, and I will continue to advocate for these critical Act 111 reforms and lend my support to corresponding legislative efforts.
I understand that transparency and accountability are critical to establishing the community trust needed to advance meaningful reform. To that end, I plan to have the City of Pittsburgh continue to compile and report data on all use of force incidents involving the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. In addition, I will support the release of requested records where legally permissible. While the process to release this information will be informed by legal restrictions and other reasonable considerations, my administration will continue to engage with you and the broader public to ensure accountability and transparency.
6. Terminate the Pittsburgh FOP President
The City of Pittsburgh’s ability to terminate any employee is governed by civil service statues, state law, and federal law.
Also under state law, officers can generally only be de-certified for misconduct if they are found guilty of criminal charges. Without the necessary state-led reforms, the City of Pittsburgh is limited in our ability to hold officers accountable and terminate their employment in the public interest.
In addition to Act 111 reforms, I have called on state lawmakers to amend the Confidence in Law Enforcement Act to expand the circumstances under which employers are required to terminate officers engaged in misconduct. I have also called for giving the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) more authority to revoke certifications from officers and the ability to review use-of-force complaints to suspend or revoke certifications. I will continue to advocate for these reforms and support corresponding legislative efforts at the state level as they are critical to ensuring accountability from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
7. Disband All Private Police Departments
In Pennsylvania, the establishment and regulation of private police departments operating within the borders of the City of Pittsburgh lies with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Title 22 Pa.C.S.A. Detectives and private police and 22 Pa. C.S.A. Private Detective Act of 1953). While the City of Pittsburgh has no authority in the regulation of private police departments, I will strongly advocate for responsible community policing models and accountability for all police departments.
This is also a moment to partner with SEIU to make sure their building security officers are given the proper training they need. I was proud to help lead the effort on legislation to provide proper training requirements for our building guards so that they can provide greater assistance to the public without calling public safety. Sadly, the courts struck down our legislation, but I will continue to work with SEIU on new efforts and solutions.
8. End “No Knock” Warrants
Breonna Taylor, whose life was tragically cut short, was killed by an officer utilizing a “No Knock” Warrant. I agree that this dangerous practice harms both the officer and residents on the other side of the door. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police does not currently engage in “No Knock” Warrants or plan to implement this practice in the future.
I share your outrage in the death of Ms. Taylor, a trained emergency medical technician and a hero who continually fought to provide relief for those in their darkest moments. Like her, we need to console one another and fight for the good among us. Her memory requires us as a community to engage in tough conversations that will lead to a more just future.
9. Cease Partnership with ICE
Per Chief’s Order 11-3 entitled “Unbiased Policing Policy,” which went into effect in 2014 and is still in effect today, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police does not cooperate, share information, or coordinate with the United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless there is a federally mandated court order. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police does not currently ask for any information or documentation associated with a person’s immigration status. The City is willing to provide assistance to any other municipal police department wishing to implement similar practices.
The City of Pittsburgh abides by all of the provisions of sanctuary city status. We work through our authority as a City to protect our rights to stand with our immigrant communities. This includes filing amici briefs with the courts with our partners at the National League of Cities and other mayors to stop the DOJ from requiring ICE cooperation as a prerequisite for grants. In fact, the City has turned down DOJ grant money because have refused to sign statements committing to ICE cooperation.
Beyond protecting Pittsburgh’s immigrant families from ICE, I have worked to create the conditions for our immigrant neighbors to thrive within the City of Pittsburgh. In May 2014, I launched the Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative with input from over 3,000 community members, and direction from the diverse and distinguished 40-person Advisory Council. This input provided the basis for the Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan, which today, is a living document used by my office and the wider welcoming community to improve the lives of all immigrants, create more informed, diverse, and welcoming experiences throughout our city, and ensure Pittsburgh is most livable for all.
Recommendation #27 of the Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan instructs us to “commit to a community policing approach.” As a result, my office has worked with the Department of Public Safety to establish the Multicultural Liaison Unit. The unit aims to increase trust and reliance of Public Safety employees within immigrant and refugee communities through cooperation with the Welcoming Pittsburgh Steering Committee, comprised of community and civic leaders. This goal is also guided by 3 major initiatives: communication and language access, outreach and education, and multicultural training. One critical element of the multicultural training initiative, which will be implemented under the guidance of the Multicultural Liaison Unit is cultural competency training for law enforcement and first responders. These cultural competency trainings are now in the works and are designed to build sustainable and trustworthy relationships between the Department of Public Safety and these under-represented communities.
In addition, Multicultural Overviews will be designed for each of the 6 Police Zones to provide information on the various immigrant and refugee communities populating that zone. These overviews have the objective of increasing our officers’ understanding and respect and ensuring an appropriate cultural response when responding to the needs of our immigrant and refugee neighbors.
10. End Cash Bail
I recognize that cash bail (and other punitive measures) disproportionately harm people who are poor and those who are experiencing homelessness. I believe it is an inequitable system, perpetuating harm and structural violence. While the City itself does not have agency over bail, which is at the discretion of separately elected presiding judges and guided by state laws, I support the allocation of services to individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system to mitigate future engagement and harm.
The City will address criminal justice system engagement through diversion and the issuance of summons in place of arrests where appropriate. In partnership with Foundation of HOPE, the Buhl Foundation, Dollar Bank, the Pittsburgh Foundation, juvenile probation, magisterial district judges, and the Housing Authority City of Pittsburgh, Zone 1 police implemented the county’s first youth diversion program and is focused on expanding youth diversion citywide. The City is working in partnership with Allegheny County and surrounding municipalities to develop and implement harm reduction-based, pre-arrest diversion programs focused on providing robust support to individuals who have had previous engagement with the criminal justice system. This work is critically important due to the disproportionate arrest rate of Black residents in our city, state, and country.
It will continue to be our priority to focus on working with our communities to intervene before the criminal justice system. We will continue to put significant resources every year towards our Group Violence Intervention work. This coordination with local non-profits and street outreach workers is one of the keys to our continued success in lowering violent crime in the City over the past several years. These partners provide economic opportunity to our youth, reach out when crimes have occurred to prevent retaliation, and mentor our youth about career opportunities.
It is within the City’s purview to lower arrests through diversion and support of community programs. Through the development of the City’s Office of Community Health and Safety and with partnerships to expand homeless street outreach and to develop co-responder models, I am focused on reducing the number of arrests related to homelessness/housing instability, sex work, substance use, mental health, and offenses associated with poverty. These critical communities have been disproportionately harmed, and I recognize that it is long past the time to address these inequities.
11. Release All Vulnerable Individuals from Jail
While management and oversight of the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) and criminal justice functions, including courts, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s office, probation parole, justice-related services, pretrial services, and discharge, are all within the purview of Allegheny County and the judicial branch of government, the City is committed to implementing diversion to reduce the population of people entering the jail. Furthermore, the City is committed to expanding the continuum of first responders to meet the needs of people prior to criminal justice involvement and upon leaving the jail. Through the Office of Community Health and Safety, and in close collaboration with the community, Black organizations, and Allegheny County, the City will work to ensure that the first responder is the person best trained and suited to promote safety and well-being. As part of this office and through these partnerships, the City will also work to ensure that first responder engagements initiate communication and increase support for individuals and families.
To reduce recidivism upon jail release associated with displacement, substance use, mental health, and poverty, the City is collaborating with Allegheny County, as well as public and private partners, to develop a comprehensive, 24/7 services center and shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. The City is working to ensure that there is always a place for people to sleep safely and receive health and well-being support.
I also support the overall reduction of the size of the prison population in the Commonwealth and supported the closing of Western Penitentiary here in the City. This must be done through meaningful state legislative reform on decriminalization, bond/bail reform, sentencing reform and more.
12. Create an Independent, Fully-Funded Civilian Review Board
Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) was created in 1997 after the police-involved deaths of Jonny Gammage and Jerry Jackson in order to investigate citizen complaints about improper police conduct involving the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. I personally wrote the legislation to create the CPRB as a Council staff member and lobbied with the community to get the votes for passage. Sala Udin and I remain as the only two elected that have worked with the CPRB since inception. While the agency puts Pittsburgh ahead of the curve on civilian oversight, State-level reforms are needed to boost its effectiveness and impact. I endorse efforts by the Pennsylvania State Senate Democratic Caucus to grant municipal civilian oversight boards the authority to review Police Bureaus’ policies, procedures, orders, and all use of force and police misconduct incidents. This measure would also provide much-needed funding to municipal civil oversight boards, including Pittsburgh’s CPRB. Additionally, I have called on the CPRB to review city actions in recent weeks and to make recommendations on areas for improvement.
Locally, we are looking into ways to ensure that the CPRB is fully funded at appropriate levels to ensure effectiveness and bolster community engagement. We plan to work to boost the public’s awareness of this critical agency so that residents are aware, and more importantly, know their rights when it comes to reporting incidents of police misconduct.
When I took office, I moved the City’s Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI) from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Law to boost its independence and accountability when investigating incidents of police misconduct and hired the former chair of the CPRB to run OMI. I also support additional outreach efforts to strengthen the public’s awareness of OMI and its responsibilities under local law.
I also support Allegheny County Council’s efforts to create a Civilian Police Review Board and I endorse efforts in the Pennsylvania State Legislature that would require every county throughout Pennsylvania to create a Civilian Police Review Board.
Finally, I would like to end with a personal note. The demands you listed, and your overall sense of engagement, fills me with pride and hope for Pittsburgh. I have worked shoulder to shoulder with generations of Black Pittsburgh leaders, and today I am marching with their children and grandchildren. Like me, you are building upon hard-won civil rights movements of the past and urgently working to make a better Pittsburgh for the future. Together we can advance racial equity and justice, dismantle inequity, increase trust between the community and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, address the unmet needs of Pittsburgh's Black and Brown communities, and lend our voices to advocate for systemic change at all levels of government. Thank you.
Mayor of Pittsburgh