REV. RICKY BURGESS
In the wake of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, Pittsburgh’s Black community is channeling its outrage into efforts to reduce racial profiling and police brutality. With this in my mind, District 6 Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess proposed legislation last week to improve police-community relations.
“The relationship between the community and the police is at crisis level,” Burgess said. “On one side you have the police who believe the community hates them, the community disrespects them, the community is complacent in illegal activity. On the other side you have the community who believe the police hate them, the police disrespect them.”
The first piece of legislation introduced on July 23 calls for implementing a $150,000 police training program created by Unleashing Respect Project Inc., which is focused on treating everyone, even law breakers, with respect. The training program, founded by two veteran police officers in Kansas, promises to mitigate community hostility, encouraging citizen cooperation to improve crime statistics and reduce complaints and lawsuits.
The second piece of legislation will create an internet-based mobile application to allow citizens to report interactions with city employees in real time.
“What we need to do to increase community trust,” Burgess said. “(The application) uses technology to increase transparency. The public has a right to report their interaction with the city.”
Another component would see UPMC’s Dignity and Respect campaign implemented in all city departments. The campaign encourages behavioral change in individuals, communities, schools, and organizations.
Burgess also wants to give $20,000 to the Citizen’s Police Review Board to design a police-community relations summit. The goal of the summit would be to bring in national law enforcement experts to nationally known police experts to recommend strategies to improve police transparency and community-police relations.
This week, Burgess is also planning to introduce an additional piece of legislation to provide the POISE foundation with funds to do community outreach around police relations.
“I don’t think there is a magic bullet,” Burgess said. “Discrimination and sexism have long histories in this country and I don’t know that you get rid of them in one program. You need consistency over time to reduce it and maybe eliminate it.”
Burgess said he did not have data on how successful the Unleashing Respect Project Inc. training program had been in other cities. There is also little data available on how respect-focused training programs have impacted community-police relations nationally.
In 2011 the Rand Corporation released a report examining changes in the Cincinnati Police Department 10 years after the department entered into a collaborative agreement to improve police-community relation. The report indicated reduced crime, small but positive changes in the community’s perception of the department, and no evidence of racial bias in traffic stops. However, the report also indicated that Black residents in the city were less satisfied with the police department than their White counterparts.
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