PITTSBURGH, PA (August 21, 2020) Mayor William Peduto released the following statement regarding the responses of Pittsburgh Police to ongoing protests, and changes he is implementing today:
“When I raised my hand and took the oath of office in 2014 my guiding principle was to reform and change Pittsburgh government across all departments and offices, including the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The overarching goal was to provide safe, inclusive and equal opportunities for every Pittsburgher regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or immigration status, which is key to protecting the diversity that makes our city so special.
I have repeatedly watched interactions between police and protesters that escalated to uses of less-lethal weapons, arrest methods and other actions that I do not support, and which run counter to our common principles. This is not the reform I wanted, and that I continue to believe in today.
As a result I am immediately making the following changes.
We will be assigning a new Incident Commander to oversee protests, and additionally there will be new seats at command posts for Civil Affairs and Public Safety Community Engagement staff who will make sure that responses to protest activity are not just tactical in nature, but balanced with the essential goals of improving police-community relations and protecting 1st Amendment rights.
We will be assigning a new oversight and command structure for the Police Special Response Teams (SRTs); these units trained in crowd-control methods will not be used as the primary units to respond to incidents and protests, and only dispatched during narrowly-defined situations when absolutely necessary to protect the public health. The use of SRT units at these events will be subject to clear, written guidelines that city officials are working on now, and will be made public once finalized.
These guidelines will formalize that jump-out arrests of protesters by non-uniformed police in unmarked vehicles — which I ordered to be halted on Monday — are not permitted. In a related move, all police units will be barred from wearing military-style camouflaged uniforms at such events as well.
Police Chief Scott Schubert and I are reinforcing to all officers the need to protect media covering these events. I fully support the unabridged 1st Amendment rights of the press, and I want them to freely monitor activity at protests on behalf of the public. Their presence and coverage are the backbone of transparency, accountability and democracy, and I apologize if that was hindered in any way on Wednesday.
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, Chief Schubert and I are working together in coming weeks to expand the role of the Pittsburgh Police Community Engagement office to expand their oversight and decision making of the Civil Affairs Unit, police recruitment and other proactive programs the Bureau operates that are critical to reestablishing trust, confidence and positive relationships between police and all they protect and serve.
We will be announcing a new position to head this office and report directly to Chief Schubert.”