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August 18, 2014

Intriguing account of how Pittsburgh police undermined local crime-fighting efforts

This new article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provide a disconcerting account of how local police can undermine efforts to reduce local crime. The piece is headlined "Professor: Lack of cooperation marred success of Pittsburgh crime-fighting initiative," and here are excerpts:

It was one of the most embarrassing moments of David Kennedy’s career. Mr. Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York who has spent two decades studying crime and policing and worked with hundreds of departments across the country, was brought to Pittsburgh in 2008 by then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to help launch an initiative that has been credited with stemming killings in Cincinnati, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

“It is the most effective intervention with respect to gun violence or homicide that we have in any portfolio,” said Mr. Kennedy, also an author and co-chairman of the National Network for Safe Communities, an initiative of John Jay’s Center for Crime Prevention and Control. “This works better than everything.”

Part of implementing the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime — a combination of outreach to gangs and other violent groups, a swift police crackdown on group members when shootings happen and the provision of social and job-related services to offer members a way out — required mining the knowledge of veteran street officers to identify the people most likely to become victims or perpetrators of shootings.

A team from the University of Cincinnati was brought in to spend a few days with those police officers to map out the city’s violence-prone populations, but the team was sent packing in short order after the police refused to share information, Mr. Kennedy said. “I set this thing up and wound up with my face planted in the mud,” he said, calling it an unprecedented level of resistance that command-level officers orchestrated.

A 2011 city-commissioned report on PIRC that the University of Pittsburgh conducted also found the police largely ignored the Cincinnati academics’ research, which identified 35 “violent groups” in Pittsburgh and determined 69 percent of the city’s homicides from 2007 to early 2010 were “group-related.”

“The Pittsburgh police department was absolutely the most condescending and aggressively uncooperative agency I have encountered,” he said.  “They would not share information; they would not provide information. They would not allow any outsiders in.” It made no difference that PIRC was a mayoral initiative with hundreds of thousands of dollars in City Council funding.  “They actively rejected it and made no secret of that,” Mr. Kennedy said.  “My read on this was the police bureau saying, ‘City Hall is trying to tell us what to do, and we’re not going to do it.’  And they won that fight.”

Not long after, Mr. Kennedy gave up.  “I said to them, ‘This is a sham. I’m not going to be involved in it anymore,’” he said.  Ever since, PIRC has failed to fulfill its potential to reduce the number of bodies hitting city streets, though it has had some success in connecting people with job services and education, said City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who helped bring the program to the city.

“We’re losing lives because the police do not want to make preventing homicides by gaining community confidence its primary concern,” he said, noting that the Allegheny County Department of Human Services embraced many of the same principles Mr. Kennedy promoted in a June report.  “We need a philosophical change in the way the city of Pittsburgh police operates.”

Two weeks ago, Mayor Bill Peduto, who was elected last year, and his new public safety director, former Pennsylvania state trooper and FBI special agent Stephen Bucar, were flanked by acting police Chief Regina McDonald at a news conference to address a spike in killings....  PIRC was barely mentioned during the news conference, during which most of the focus was on 13 new officers assigned to walk beats in Homewood and other East End neighborhoods, three more detectives moving to the bureau’s homicide division and the role of the community in reporting crime and coming forward as witnesses....

Sonya Toler, the city’s public safety spokeswoman, refused requests to interview Chief McDonald, former Public Safety Director Mike Huss, who remains on the city payroll, and Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson about PIRC.  Jay Gilmer, PIRC’s civilian coordinator and sole employee, who is paid about $49,000 a year, referred all questions to Ms. Toler, who said some of the past friction was the result of restrictions on sharing information outside of law enforcement circles.  She said while it “may be true” that police resistance stifled PIRC’s effectiveness, dwelling on the past won’t make the program better in the future....

The mayor and Mr. Bucar have said they favor revamping PIRC, with Mr. Bucar pledging during his council confirmation hearing that the police “will become engaged” in the program.  Mr. Bucar has assigned Officer Michelle Auge to be his liaison to the police bureau, which will include PIRC work, in a move that is already yielding results, Ms. Toler said....

Whatever happens, the existing Pittsburgh program needs more than a tweak, Mr. Kennedy said.  “They need to blow it up and start all over again,” he said.  “PIRC did not fail because it won’t work in Pittsburgh.  PIRC failed because the police bureau failed to let it succeed.”

August 18, 2014 at 09:15 AM | Permalink

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Comments

What's next. USDOJ intervention, USDOJ lawsuit, consent decree, USDOJ oversight.

Posted by: ? | Aug 18, 2014 9:44:41 PM

What is the explanation for this puzzling obstructionism?

You all know the answer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 19, 2014 2:17:18 AM

Researchers from UC going to Pittsburgh -- well, you know, they hate the Bengals there, so that makes perfect sense that they would thwart them. I guess the researchers should be happy they didn't break their kneecaps.

Posted by: Anne | Aug 19, 2014 12:18:22 PM

Thank you for this article. It is notorious that police sabotage crime prevention. Researchers have shown the 90% profile of criminals for almost two centuries, http://medicolegal.tripod.com/preventcrime.htm, but to no avail. Corruption among police, and of course, elsewhere in government, has long been documented, http://medicolegal.tripod.com/govtcrime.htm.

Posted by: Historian | Oct 20, 2014 4:57:43 AM

My pre-"retirement" background includes having been a U.S. federal government crime prevention officer.

Posted by: Historian | Oct 20, 2014 4:59:30 AM

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