All across the nation, the trust gap between police and many of our communities of color has reached a crisis state. In Ferguson, Missouri, a police officer shoots unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown. In New York, unarmed, 43-year-old Eric Garner dies as a result of a struggle with police. Cleveland police officers shoot and kill 12-year-old Tamir Rice who is armed with a toy gun. The list goes on. The uncomfortable common thread, of course, is the officers are White and the victims are Black. Police and the criminal justice system in this country are facing a crisis of confidence.
Here in Pittsburgh, we too have had our incidents, and the public trust is in jeopardy. If we, the police, are to regain legitimacy, we must assure those calling for change that we hear and understand them, and are committed to police accountability.
Some of those calling for police accountability locally tell me they are not being heard. There has been a chorus calling for the officer involved in the Leon Ford incident to be placed on administrative duties pending completion of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Some perceive our unwillingness to do so as evidence of corruption of our accountability.
The assassination of two officers in New York now has me extremely concerned about the potential for similar violence and for the safety of our officers. The incidents in Ferguson and New York highlight how tragic the outcomes can become if police lose legitimacy and the public trust becomes too badly damaged.
The truth is we have heard and we do understand. Weeks ago, recognizing the pain his presence was causing the public, our officer agreed to move to a different part of the city and to work in a plain clothes capacity with limited public contact, and I respect his willingness to have done so.
At this point, however, for the integrity of the Police Bureau, I need to make this formal. Until the U.S. Department of Justice investigation is complete, our officer has been assigned to desk duty. He is not being so assigned for punitive reasons. Accountability is one of our core values, and we must respect the integrity of the outside investigation of our actions, honor the findings when they are determined, and, in the process, demonstrate to our communities of color that we hear and understand the pain.
Now the question remains, what are we going to do, Pittsburgh? Police work is often not pretty. Officers must arrest violators. Violators often resist, sometimes violently.
When the next ugly incident happens, will we be willing to withhold judgement and control our emotions long enough to give each other the benefit of the doubt? Are we going to work together toward reconciliation? Are we going to work on listening to one another with the intention of compassionate understanding?
I have faith in us. I think we will.
In the Police Bureau, we are deeply committed to improving the quality of our relationships with our community members, and improving integrity of our accountability systems. We are creating an Office of Professional Standards that will work closely with the Office of Municipal Investigations, and are conducting thorough audits of all of our accountability systems. We will be conducting a thorough audit of our police training, to make certain all training, including use of force training, includes a component of ethical decision making. We must never lose sight of our ethical standards of conduct as we perform our difficult and, at times, thankless job.
In other words, I am making sure we live our core values: Accountability, Integrity and Respect.
The truth is, we have the power to choose our reactions to challenging circumstances. I have faith here in Pittsburgh we will choose wisely.
Cameron S. McLay
Chief of Police
City of Pittsburgh