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'We Need To Get To The Root Causes Of Systematic Racism': Legislation To Freeze Hiring And Divert Police Funding Has Broad Support On Council

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Protests around the country have called for defunding -- and in some cases dismantling -- police departments. But early supporters of legislation to freeze hiring and divert money from Pittsburgh's Bureau of Police say this isn't the same thing.

"It's not defunding, it's using resources in other ways to support our police and support our community," said Councilman Corey O'Connor.

Councilman Ricky Burgess and cosponsor Daniel Lavelle have introduced legislation to redirect money from the police bureau into something called the Stop the Violence Fund, which is a mix of social and violence prevention programs.

The fund, which would initially take 5 percent of the police budget and grow to 10 percent over 5 years, would mean a reduction in the number of officers, replacing some of them with social workers.

"The best way to make the community safer is not by increasing the number of police but rather by increasing the confidence of the community so they will partner with police and public safety. That is the way to make the city safer," said Burgess.

"I think we've asked our police to be social workers and deal with issues that are fundamental in our society like homelessness, untreated mental illness and addiction," said Councilwoman Erika Strassburger. She says the redirection into support services will lighten the load for police and better address core issues that may result in lawlessness.

"We need to get to the root causes of systemic racism and the root causes of the problems in our country and not try to police our way out it," she says.

The legislation also attempts to set a different tone of policing, banning the use of military style equipment such as LRAD -- the high-pitched sound weapon used to dispel crowds during the G20 protests in 2009. The police bureau says it still occasionally uses the LRAD but no longer takes surplus from the military.

"This is the Pittsburgh Police and not the 3rd Infantry. We do not need them in tanks and army fatigues," Burgess said.

FOP President Robert Swartzwelder said police would gladly hand over some of their present duties to social workers if the city is good on its word. What he fears is the creation of a new bureaucracy. The mayor office says it looks forward to working with council.

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