PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is making changes to the police in response to protests.
There will be a new incident commander to oversee protests, as well as new seats at command posts for Civil Affairs and Public Safety Community Engagement staff who the mayor says “will make sure that responses to protest activity are not just tactical in nature, but balanced.”
There will also be a new oversight and command structure for the Police Special Response Teams, which are trained in crowd-control methods. SRTs will not be used as the primary units to respond to protests. Instead, the mayor says they’ll be dispatched “when absolutely necessary to protect the public health.”
The mayor says the SRT units will be subject to rules that city officials are working on. The guidelines will also formalize a ban of arrests like the one used on a protester last weekend.
The Mayor has ordered a series of immediate changes to the command structure following recent events. https://t.co/dcHPpnuW7Y
— Office of the Mayor (@TheNextPGH) August 21, 2020
“I have repeatedly watched interactions between police and protesters that escalated to uses of less-lethal weapons, arrest methods and other actions that I do not support, and which run counter to our common principles. This is not the reform I wanted, and that I continue to believe in today,” the mayor said in a statement.
— Andy Sheehan (@AndySheehankdka) August 21, 2020
This comes after two nights of protests outside of Mayor Bill Peduto’s home. Police say they used pepper spray and arrested a man at Mellon Park on Wednesday night.
At a ribbon cutting for the newly renovated Townsend Parklet in the city’s West End, the mayor spoke for the first time since his front stoop talks with protesters ended in a confrontation with police at nearby Mellon Park. He quickly took police to task for being the aggressors.
“In my opinion, there was absolutely no reason for Pittsburgh Police to continue once the protesters had crossed Fifth Avenue. If anything, they were being antagonized by our SRT unit,” he said.
The mayor said police actions had damaged long-term relations with the community and had merely proven the protesters’ concerns about police tactics.
“We lost anything that we potentially gained. And the reason the protesters were at my home was because of the tactics the Pittsburgh Police used on Saturday,” he said.
After the plainclothes arrest of protester who was taken away in an unmarked van on Saturday, the mayor said he had given the police command staff one final chance to properly respond to the protests. And in saying they blew that chance Wednesday night, he said there would be changes involving the higher ups.
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His actions so far have not satisfied protesters and have angered police, whose union president says have been maligned by the mayor.
“My job is the only job in the city that has to be in that middle and has to be able to recognize the rights of everyone. And yes, that makes me unpopular to both sides, but if I wasn’t unpopular to both sides, I would not be doing my job,” he said.
A joint statement from Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich and Police Chief Scott Schubert say they both respect and support the mayor’s decision. They’ll will continue to work with the mayor’s office to keep citizens safe and improve police-community relationships.
“To the men and women of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, we appreciate the tireless hard work and dedication you demonstrate each and every day, especially under extremely challenging circumstances. We will do everything in our power to provide you with the leadership you need and deserve during this time,” said Hissrich in a statement.
Chief Schubert’s statement reads: “Our officers are as skilled with adapting to change as they are with serving and protecting the people of Pittsburgh day in and day out, without hesitation and without question. Their expertise and involvement will be instrumental to ensuring these changes will result in a safer, more inclusive, and more compassionate Pittsburgh.”