Pitt center provides resources for police accountability

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TPN File Photo

A City police officer faces a line of people.

By Andrew Thompson, Staff Writer

With Allegheny County’s hyper fragmentation — containing 130 municipalities and 108 police departments — Pitt’s Center for Analytical Approaches To Social Innovation created a resource to gather and consolidate police information in one place.

CAASI researches a variety of social issues — such as inmate reintegration and precarity of tipped workers — in Allegheny County by using quantitative methods to create innovative solutions. The Center also creates and provides easy-to-navigate resources — like the Allegheny County Policing Project — for residents, researchers and activists to use to understand police union contracts and increase police accountability.

Ivy Chang, CAASI’s communications coordinator, said she is excited about the project because of its accessibility and potential to make policing more transparent.

“[It] just makes it so much more transparent, everything that’s going on within police unions, from the different problematic language in their police union contracts to knowing what police budgets are,” Chang, a junior finance and economics major, said. “So having that accessibility to information is something that I am really excited about and I really believe in the work of that project.”

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According to Chang, the ACPP is inspired by Campaign Zero — a nonprofit that encourages policy makers to focus on solutions to end police violence, and provides guidelines for identifying problematic language and policing contracts. Chang said Campaign Zero helped identify systemic issues in the police contracts, such as wording that makes police less likely to be held accountable in certain situations.

“So, for example, sometimes if a complaint is filed and it’s submitted anonymously, it just gets dismissed,” Chang said. “Or if a complaint is heard in some cases, if no discipline is taken, the complaint is destroyed.”

According to Mikaela Chandler, CAASI project manager, two tools are currently in development as part of the project — the Police Contract Analysis Tool and Police Misconduct Tool.

Chandler, a graduate student in the master of public administration program, leads the Police Misconduct Tool. She said she manages a group of volunteers involved in data science, social activism and community organization from various universities across the nation, including Pitt, George Washington and Tufts.

According to Chandler, the purpose of the Police Misconduct Tool is to make disciplinary processes — such as filing a complaint against a police officer — more understandable to the general public.

“What we did was, we sort of went through the process in Pittsburgh of what it looks like to file a complaint against a police officer and sort of broke that down into something that’s really comprehensive as well as understandable for people,” Chandler said.

Chandler said the tool will help prevent confusion between the time someone sends a complaint and when it is being reviewed by the Citizens Police Review Board or the Office of Municipal Investigations. She said being informed during the process is helpful so citizens can understand the results of the review and properly exercise their rights.

We really wanted to be aware of the people that were going to be coming to this tool and trying to make it as approachable and as easy to understand as possible,” Chandler said. “And so we wanted to make sure we created a tool that was easy to understand for as many people as possible.”

Chandler also said the tool is also meant to provide people with a “one-stop-shop” of information.

“The hope with the tool is to sort of provide all of the information in one place,” Chandler said. “So if you are in Pittsburgh and you have experienced some level of misconduct with a officer of the Pittsburgh Bureau, you can go [to a] sort of one-stop-shop of being able to get all the information you need know sort of what is expected of you and also provide just some some context that a lot of people may not have.”

Chang said the project includes an interactive map used to display Allegheny County’s 130 municipalities and helps citizens to identify their local and neighboring police departments. The Contract Analysis Tool includes a searchable contract database with supplemental contract information. This also includes a keyword search tool for analyzing what Chang said could be problematic language in police contracts.

Eliana Beigel, CAASI project manager, said the Police Contract Analysis Tool showed the many processes involved with police union contracts.

“There’s so many moving parts,” Beigel, a graduate student in the MPA program, said, “And we learned that police union contracts are actually a really, really big part of it. They can be a big barrier to accountability and transparency.”

According to Beigel, the “many moving parts” to police contracts are due to different police departments having their own contracts that have different sets of rules. Due to the lack of written procedures or contracts in some police departments — such as the East Pittsburgh Police Department — Beigel said it can be difficult for citizens to truly understand how to interact with police investigations after an incident pertaining to a potential violation of the law.

“One thing that stood out to us is that many of these contracts don’t detail a process for investigating citizen complaints,” Beigel said. The East Pittsburgh Police Department found that they simply did not have any written out procedures, so the absence of things like that could be concerning.”

The East Pittsburgh Police Department was disbanded after a department officer fatally shot Antwon Rose Jr., an unarmed 17-year-old, in 2018. After being charged with one count of criminal homicide, jurors found the officer — Michael Rosfeld, a former Pitt police officer — not guilty.

Chandler said through her work, she wants people to feel empowered by sharing their experiences with police misconduct.

“I think I would want people to feel that their experience was valid and that they would feel empowered to share that with the people that need to hear it, because that is an important way forward for change,” Chandler said.

A previous version of this article stated that the project details police budget breakdowns and includes a way to submit misconduct reports. The project does not have this functionality. Information about Campaign Zero, the project’s interactive map, the type of social issues CAASI researches and who the ACPP project is for were also updated to be more specific. The Pitt News regrets these errors.