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Mayor Peduto Discusses Police Reform Measures Following Protest In East Liberty

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto discussed police reform measures at a news conference Thursday morning, reiterating his call from just one day ago for independent investigations into police actions after a protest took a violent turn after it was breaking up Monday in East Liberty.

The mayor held the news conference at 10 a.m. at the City-County Building with his Chief-of-Staff Dan Gilman.

Gilman says the Mayor's Office is in full support of the "8 Can't Wait Campaign," which are nationwide police reform policies.

They include:

• Requires officers to de-escalate situations, when possible, before using force.
• Have a Force Continuum or Matrix included in their use of force policy, defining the types of force/weapons that can be used to respond to specific types of resistance.
• Explicitly prohibit chokeholds and strangleholds (including carotid restraints) or limit these tactics to situations where deadly force is authorized.
• Requires officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before using deadly force.
• Prohibits officers from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless the person poses a deadly threat by means other than the vehicle (for example, shooting at people from the vehicle).
• Requires officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before resorting to using deadly force.
• Requires officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force.
• Requires officers to report all uses of force including threatening another civilian with a firearm.

"I'm calling on every other white elected official to support and back and sponsor these bills," said Mayor Peduto. "Now is the time to show your support for needed police reform in the state of Pennsylvania, and being quiet is not where this state needs to be."

Police union president Bob Swartzwelder said the Pittsburgh police already prohibit chokeholds and have instituted reforms, including de-escalation and implicit bias training.

He dismissed Peduto's criticism as exploiting the death of George Floyd.

"He's using the death of an individual, an unfortunate incident, to politicize it," Swartzwelder said.

Among his other endorsements on policing reform is the use-of-force legislation introduced by state Reps. Summer Lee and Ed Gainey, which bars "police from using deadly force during arrests, and using it only to protect against imminent threats of harm."

Mayor Peduto says he is also endorsing the State Legislature Police Reform Working Group's recommendations, "including outlawing the use of choke-holds, establishing an independent review process of any police encounter that results in serious injury or death, and naming an inspector general to systematically review police policies."

He is also calling for required and additional implicit bias and de-escalation training, which Pittsburgh Police already go through. The mayor says he would like to see the training done on a more regular basis. He is also calling for more reform in Harrisburg "to create greater accountability and transparency."

The Mayor's Office is also looking at these additional reforms:

• Amending Act 111 to limit the scope of bargaining over disciplinary procedures or specifically limit a labor arbitrator's authority to modify disciplinary penalties
• Amending Act 111 to adopt the "public policy exception," which would enable cities to challenge an arbitrator's decision to return an officer to work on the basis that their continued employment is adverse to the public interest
• Amending the Confidence in Law Enforcement Act to expand the circumstances under which employers are required to terminate officers engaged in misconduct
• Giving the Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) more authority to revoke certifications from officers, or the ability to review use-of-force complaints to suspend or revoke certifications

According to Gilman, the city is also exploring "mandatory rotating of staff work assignments that could help to lessen the impact of long-term, high-stress assignments."

In addition, Mayor Peduto says he signed President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Alliance Pledge, which includes these points:

1. REVIEW the police use of force policies in my community
2. ENGAGE my community by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in our review
3. REPORT the findings of our review to my community and seek feedback within 90 days of signing this pledge
4. REFORM my community's police use of force policies based on findings

On Wednesday, Mayor Peduto sent letters to the Office of Municipal Investigations and the Citizen Police Review Board calling for a full investigation into the breaking up of the splintered group at the protest.

The Citizen Police Review Board investigation will be in conjunction with the ACLU, NAACP Pittsburgh and U.S. Attorney's Office.

Mayor Peduto says they need the NAACP to work with them in order to point out biases in policing, and have them corrected.

In a statement, the mayor said, "For the past 36 hours, I have studied best practices of less lethal crowd dispersion, I have read countless comments on social media and viewed first-hand video, photographs and accounts. The Public Safety Director provided me with the written official transcripts of all Command operations during that day and I have talked with every person in the Command rank who was on the ground or in the Command Center. Without question, there is a difference of opinion about what happened that day and the appropriateness of the actions of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police."

Demonstrators say police caused the panic Monday night; however, police said they were under assault a small group of agitators and repeatedly asked them to disperse.

The police contended they used smoke at the scene, but then said tear gas was used that night at other locations.

Protester Nicole Rulli says that's not true.

"It wasn't just smoke. It was tear gas. I was in the fetal position in the street up there with bright red snot coming out. I had to have milk poured on me because I couldn't breathe. I thought I was going to die," she said.

The demonstrators also say police shot them with rubber bullets, but a police spokesperson said the bureau has used beanbags and sponge rounds during these protests.

The mayor said the two independent investigations will determine who initiated the melee, whether tear gas was used and whether beanbags were shot at protesters.

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