Federal and city leaders say Pittsburgh police are not being singled out as one of six cities for a pilot police community relations program because of past problems or because of protests over officer conduct.
They credit the selection for the U.S. Justice Department's National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice to city efforts already underway in that area.
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"Pittsburgh was chosen not because we're a problematic community, but rather because we have shown our willingness and capacity and demonstrated our ability to work together," said David Hickton, United States Attorney for western Pennsylvania.
"It's coming from a grassroots effort. It's happening in church basements, it's happening in rec centers, it's happening all throughout this city. It's a coming together of community and police," said Mayor Bill Peduto.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the selection in Washington Thursday afternoon. $4.75 million of funding and national expertise are going into the national initiative, including more than $1 million to Pittsburgh.
"The people at the Department of Justice are very excited to do their work in Pittsburgh. They believe we can succeed here," said Hickton.
Hickton said that in May, 2011, he formed a community police relations group. "Our goal was and remains to shed light, not heat, on problem of mistrust," he said.
Now, national experts will be working with police to develop methods of bias reduction, procedural fairness, racial reconciliation and violence prevention.
"I am so excited about this, because this is a gift I'm giving to the officers of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. This is not something being done to us. This is a gift I get to give to them," said Police Chief Cam McLay. "It's going to make us better."
"Our goal is to create the best police force in the United States, but also of creating a model, a best practice, for other police bureaus around the country to follow," Peduto said. The other cities selected for the pilot program are Birmingham, Alabama; Ft. Worth, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Stockton, California.
While Pittsburgh has seen protests over police issues, past critics of the bureau see hope in this development.
"As we are beginning to see seeds of spring, we think we have seeds of a new day in Pittsburgh, and I think Pittsburgh being chosen will give us new tools by which we'll meet that goal," said Tim Stevens of B-PEP, the Black Political Empowerment Project.
"We have a long way to go, there's no question about that, but I think this is a step in the right direction, and we're privileged to have the opportunity to do it," said Elizabeth Pittinger of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board.
"The Department of Justice recognized this is a place where we can become a positive example. I think we have averted some of the violence we've seen around the country because of the work we've done," Hickton said. "We have a common enemy. It's random violence in our communities."