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Editorial: Pittsburgh Police lapses require thorough review

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11/16/2022 The Editorial Board / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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A pair of broad-daylight shootings around crowded events, where community members had requested police assistance, have raised question about the ability of Pittsburgh Police to protect the citizens of this city. 

To reform and bolster public safety in Pittsburgh, the mayor’s office should undertake a comprehensive review of the resources needed to fight what appears to be a rising tide of violence and, equally important, transition public safety to a more community-based model that will help prevent violence. 

In August, Zone 5 police officials promised the youth athletic association in Lincoln-Lemington that Pittsburgh Police would provide officers at a football game between that neighborhood and Homewood. But no one showed, and several shots were fired adjacent to the park, sending children and parents scrambling for cover.

In late October, Brighton Heights community members requested a police presence at the funeral of John Hornezes Jr., 20, who had been killed two weeks before in a North Side shootout. The bureau accepted the request. but, again, no cops showed up, and six police were wounded in a wild shooting spree.

With two major lapses in just a few months — not to mention an instance of falsification of time sheets that resulted in the termination of two officers and their supervisor — the bureau appears to be adrift, unable to fulfill its basic obligations to the community. The status quo is not working. It’s time to rethink manpower, money and leadership.

Mayor Ed Gainey is addressing manpower by calling a new class of recruits to the police academy, an important first step toward not only growing the bureau’s ranks but also bringing in new men and women educated in, and committed to, a new model of policing.

It’s also clear the bureau is struggling to keep up with the rise in homicides and non-fatal shootings. The mayor’s office should consider increasing his proposed bump of less than one percent to the police’s budget, outlined in his budget address to city council. The extra money shouldn’t go to extra military-style gizmos and gadgets, but to ensuring the bureau has the personnel and training it needs. 

As part of a comprehensive violence reduction plan, the city still has not started to recruit former offenders to try to mediate and prevent violence, while offering the small number of young men doing the shooting an alternative way to get respect. The sooner that effort starts by looking at models nationwide that are working, the better.  

As for leadership, bringing an enhanced culture of community policing and professionalism to the department must top the list for the city’s candidates for chief of police. Failing to fulfill promises to monitor community events is both a failure of crimefighting and Mr. Gainey’s community policing model. The next chief will need to a firm hand, along with some additional resources and new ways of thinking about public safety in Pittsburgh. 

In his first months in office, Mr. Gainey faced an unprecedented infrastructure crisis, and his responded appropriately by making it his top budget priority. Now it’s time to bring that same urgency and commitment to retooling and rethinking public safety. 

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