Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Group Hoping to Bridge Community-Police Divide Is Ready to Go Public

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Group Hoping to Bridge Community-Police Divide Is Ready to Go Public

Article excerpt

Ask when relations between law enforcement and some area residents went sour, and members of the Community-Police Working Group point to the same point in time, but different causes.

It was the mid-1990s, said Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen at a news conference Tuesday. That's when gangs started preaching their "stop snitching" credo, making residents "scared to come forward" to police.

The mid-1990s also saw Jonny Gammage die in an encounter with suburban and city officers, in one of a series of contentious incidents, noted David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Efforts to improve relations are working "against a legacy of many years of mistrust," he said.

Though they debated the causes of police-community tensions, the working group members agreed that the problem must be addressed.

Now their 18-month-old effort to bridge mistrust and improve cooperation is coming out from behind closed doors and taking its message to the streets. The 40-member group launched a crisis team and announced a six-month process for improving relations between law enforcement and residents.

That starts with a community survey on relations with the police, which will be available online and distributed through organizations. A series of public meetings will be held this winter in Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, McKees Rocks and the Mon Valley. A community conclave, at which ideas for improving relations between police and law enforcement will be aired, is set for April 11.

"This is going to be a meeting for everybody to think in broad strokes," said Mr. Harris, who has studied similar efforts in Detroit and Cincinnati. Its core principle: "Only when the police and citizens are working together do we do everything we can to make this a better city and a safer city."

Launched in response to tensions after Homewood resident Jordan Miles' 2010 encounter with three Pittsburgh officers, the working group started in May 2011. …

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