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City to hire coordinator to improve police-community relations

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City to hire coordinator to improve police-community relations
February 3, 2015 11:33 PM
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20150203ng_chief Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay talks about new plans for coordinating community groups.
Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay talks about new plans for coordinating community groups.
By Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh would hire a new employee to coordinate efforts among community groups hoping to improve the relationship between residents and public safety officials under legislation introduced Tuesday.

Safer Together Pittsburgh, introduced by Councilman Ricky Burgess, would “formalize” many partnerships that already exist but often operate separately from one another, officials said at a morning news conference outside council chambers.

The measure, which is likely to pass, would allow the city to hire a public safety community affairs manager, who is budgeted to receive a salary of $74,078. That person would work with a steering committee that includes representatives of city government, religious groups, the Citizen Police Review Board, legal professionals and others.

Together, their work would focus on five areas: building better rapport between public safety and the community; improving education, oversight and diversity hiring; ensuring fair treatment for public safety employees; increasing the public’s understanding of public safety procedures; and helping to organize community activities.

Mayor Bill Peduto said many community groups already are focusing on such efforts, such as a church working with the Zone 6 station in the West End or others volunteering with firefighters in Brighton Heights. Many of their efforts, the mayor said, happen “in a vacuum.”

“It’s not being coordinated in any way that really brings a meaningful discussion about changes and a long-term plan” involving public safety, Mr. Peduto said. “What this does, is it formalizes the process. It puts a person in charge.”

Public safety director Stephen Bucar said, “Hopefully by the end of this year, you will see some tremendous improvements in community relations.”

The change comes at a time when tensions between officers and residents in some parts of the country are running high after controversial shootings and other events.

Chief Cameron McLay welcomed the new initiative, saying, “This is really exciting to me because the public safety challenges that are plaguing our communities, particularly our disadvantaged communities of color, are problems that the police alone cannot solve.”

Leaders of two groups — the Black Political Empowerment Project and the Micah 6 Pastors Coalition — attended the news conference to show their support.

Rashad Byrdsong, president of the Community Empowerment Association, who did not attend, called the initiative a “good first effort” but noted that many of the changes community groups are calling for will require cooperation from the city’s public safety unions.

“Oftentimes, we have heard these grandiose ideas in purpose, but they don't have the substance,” he said.