COUNTY COUNCILMAN DeWITT WALTON, who voted for the Civilian Police Review Board.
by Christian Morrow and J.L. Martello, Courier Staff Writers
After a year of public hearings and special committee meetings, Allegheny County Council finally voted on an ordinance to create a county-wide Civilian Police Review Board—and it was defeated, 9-6, with five Democrats joining Council’s four Republicans in voting against it.
The ordinance would have created an appointed board of civilians who would have oversight of the county police and any municipal departments that wanted to opt in. It would have reviewed incidents of alleged police misconduct and made recommendations as to discipline and/or criminal charges.
The push to create the board accelerated after the shooting death of Antwon Rose II by former East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld. Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, was in the Allegheny County Courthouse for the Aug. 27 vote and in the hallway afterwards, she told reporters it changes nothing.
“This is never going to be over, never,” Kenney said. “They took a vote today, we’ll be back in January.”
Khalid Raheem of the Committee for a County Civilian Review Board said the committee would review all the testimony and objections in hopes that a modified bill can be introduced in January after new councilmembers are sworn in. This vote, he told the New Pittsburgh Courier, was a “small bump in the road.”
He added: “In the long run, if we want this legislation passed we need to make modifications without gutting the legislation. We want it to have some power. Some people, even if we made modifications, still would not support this kind of bill. With new councilmembers coming in I think that gives us another yes vote—and based on some modifications if the co-sponsors are willing to make them, I think we can come out with a victory.”
Councilmembers DeWitt Walton and Paul Klein, who co-sponsored the ordinance, told the Courier they will reintroduce the ordinance next year after new councilmembers are sworn in.
“We’re disappointed but not dismayed. We are bloodied but unbowed. We have to stay true to the issues and the need to bring about fundamental change,” Councilman Walton said. “My colleague and I are committed to doing that and we’re beginning to build a broader strategy on how we move that forward. We’re going home tonight, but we’re not going away. In January, we’re coming back—with the same document.”
Objections to the ordinance ranged from concerns over costs, to its lack of subpoena power, and even a lack of protections against officers incriminating themselves under questioning.
“That’s bulls___t,” Walton said. “That’s smoke and mirrors. The Fifth Amendment provides that protection. They were lying out front.”
Councilman Klein said the objection showed a lack of good faith by the ordinance’s detractors.
“It’s not a legal tribunal,” he said. “The reality is it’s an administrative body and trying to recognize that there are things that could have been done differently and make recommendations. That’s a red herring.”
McKeesport mayoral candidate Fawn Walker-Montgomery, who co-chairs the Committee for a County Civilian Review Board, asked that if the objections were so serious, why didn’t anyone bring them up earlier?
“No legislation is perfect. We’ve been at this all year. They could have brought up objections at the four public hearings we had or any of the special committee meetings. They had ample time to bring that up, but they wait until tonight,” she said. “Regardless of the outcome, we’re not going to stop. We’ll be back. All we’re talking about here is accountability. You can’t expect police to police police—it doesn’t make sense.”
In January, Olivia Bennett of Northview Heights, who supports the civilian county review board legislation, will replace Denise Ranalli Russell on Council after beating her in the May primary. Russell voted against the civilian county review board on Aug. 27. Republicans Sue Means and Cindy Kirk, who also voted against it, face Democratic challengers in November. Democrat John Palmiere, who also voted against it, faces a Republican write-in candidate in November.
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