When police shoot or kill, who investigates? Pittsburgh, police union wrestle over process

by Rich Lord

As protesters locally and globally cry out against police use of force, Pittsburgh and its police union are in the midst of a legal and contractual tussle over how officers are questioned after they hurt or kill members of the public.

If a Pittsburgh police officer hurt or killed someone today, they could be whisked off for a prompt interview by Allegheny County police, outside of the presence of union lawyers or leadership. That process has been in place since late 2017.

But if a proposed Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board [PLRB] order stands, handling of police-involved “critical incidents” could revert to an older model. Officers who caused “critical bodily injury or death to any person,” or fired on someone — and therefore faced potential criminal charges — could then typically wait 48 hours before being interviewed, by their city colleagues, and with union representation in the room.

On May 8, the Fraternal Order of Police [FOP] Lodge 1 won the first round of a two-year-old PLRB case the union brought after the city adopted new procedures for handling critical incidents in late 2017. A hearing examiner found that the city unilaterally changed an agreement it had bargained with the union, and ordered a return to the prior practices.

On May 28, the city filed its statement opposing the examiner’s proposed order. After the union responds this month, the three-member PLRB will decide the issue, though that could be appealed to courts.

That unfolding process reflects a bigger trend, said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and author of several books on policing.

“What we’re looking at nationally is that for a long time, collective bargaining agreements with police unions have gone beyond the traditional sorts of wages and basic working conditions and so forth, and cities have granted a certain degree of control over the disciplinary process to the unions,” Harris said. He called that trend “one of the reasons that we are where we are as a country.”

A police van parked at Moore Park in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)


When police shoot or kill, who investigates? Pittsburgh, police union wrestle over process

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