Pittsburgh police unveil new policy on domestic violence

By Rich Lord
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH, Pa. The Pittsburgh Police Bureau unveiled new policies on domestic violence by officers yesterday, but women's advocates at a public hearing told City Council to put stronger rules into the city code.

The hearing featured a range of solutions to a problem brought to the fore by the June promotions of three officers who have faced allegations of domestic abuse.

Police Chief Nate Harper said the bureau and the city's Office of Municipal Investigations are now conducting separate, thorough investigations of all allegations of family abuse by officers. An internal Domestic Violence Review Board meets quarterly to discuss all such accusations.

The new measures "will ensure that no incidents regarding domestic violence allegations involving officers will slip through the cracks," he said.

No one subject to an active protection-from-abuse order can now be hired or promoted, he said. Expired PFAs aren't a bar to joining the force or moving up, but they are considered, with more weight given to those rooted in violent acts than those stemming from "just a shouting match."

Similar rules are in Council President Doug Shields' proposed ordinance, which also would require enhanced background checks of police applicants, and consideration of reassignment or termination of officers subject to PFAs.

Barbara K. Shore, of the National Council of Jewish Women, called Mr. Shields' proposal "a giant step in the right direction."

Some of the eight speakers at the hearing who favored the proposal only the police union president spoke in opposition suggested ways to strengthen it.

Jeanne Clark, of the National Organization for Women, wanted outside review of allegations, calling Chief Harper's changes "the fox guarding the chicken coop."

Chief Harper later said he wants the Allegheny County district attorney to review all domestic violence calls to officers' homes, but hasn't worked out the details yet.

Christine Stone, of the National Council of Jewish Women, said any officer subject to a PFA should have to surrender all firearms.

Chief Harper said the bureau is guided by court orders on whether an officer under a PFA can possess a service revolver. There is as yet no policy covering PFA cases in which the court doesn't specify whether the officer can carry a gun on duty.

Fraternal Order of Police President Jim Malloy said council shouldn't legislate personnel decisions. Council confirmed Chief Harper, he said, and should trust his leadership. "The first time a flap came along, you immediately challenged his ability to lead by turning this into police bashing," he said.

"When I vote to confirm a director or a bureau chief, I do not give them ... carte blanche," countered Mr. Shields.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, issued a "warning to the city of Pittsburgh, that we have some officers whose domestic relations are fraught with abuse and violence," predicting a "tragedy" if nothing is done.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of court records found that 35 current city police officers have been the subject of protection-from-abuse orders. Two of those officers were hired early this year, before Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pledged "zero tolerance" against domestic abuse throughout the city's 3,300-person work force.

Council is expected to cast a tentative vote on Mr. Shields' legislation on Wednesday, with a final vote possible on Oct. 30.

Copyright 2007 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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