PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – After more than two weeks of protests and demonstrations, the question is “what change will come?” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto says the city must seize the day.
“Thirty-plus years in politics and government, I’ve never seen the type of traction we have right now when it comes to racism and being able to address it,” Mayor Peduto told KDKA’s Andy Sheehan.
The mayor is embracing a measure proposed by Councilman Ricky Burgess to redirect a portion of the police budget to unburden the police of addressing the city’s homeless, mentally ill and addicted populations, creating an Office of Community Health and Safety.
The proposed office would house social services, public health and social work experts who could assist first responders in longer-term situations, operating under the co-direction of the Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Mayor.
“Our public safety personnel are available 24/7 but often go into situations that are beyond the scope of their training. The individuals and communities they encounter need help beyond law enforcement or emergency medical attention,” Mayor Peduto said in a press release.
“This office will allow public safety to step back and determine what kind of support an individual or family needs and get them that help through social workers or other agencies so that we’re seeing people holistically and connecting them with more sustainable resources and assistance.”
And like Burgess, he wants to demilitarize police by putting the brakes on the purchase of low cost, surplus military equipment such as armored vehicles and LRAD sound weapons to disperse protesters.
“We’ll make sure they have the equipment they need but not an excess of equipment simply because they get a good deal,” says the mayor.
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But Mayor Peduto says reforms must go beyond police.
“If we want to really adopt principals of black lives matter we’re going to have to deal with that through access to healthcare, access to quality jobs, access to quality education, access to housing and police reform,” he says.
To that end, he’s calling for a community-wide effort to address inequality.
“I don’t think the solutions lie strictly in City Hall. I think they have to come from our corporate community, they have to come from our institutions, our hospitals and universities, they have to come from our non-profits and labor,” he says.
The mayor’s office says they’ll work with public safety and city council to determine reallocation in the 2021 budget and find external funding opportunities for the initiative.
“This initiative will give the community relations units in all bureaus as well as all police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel the support that is critical to improving not just our high standards of service, but also our relationships with the community,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich in a press release.