Police Reform: What’s happening locally, statewide, and nationally

Katie Phillips Active + Engaged Residents, Advocacy, Diverse + Connected Region, Featured Advocacy, General

The recent killings of Black people at the hands of police have prompted weeks of protests, with people around the country calling for changes to policing to end racial discrimination and police brutality. The calls for justice are not new – Black activists have been working to dismantle systemic racism for centuries – but the momentum behind this most recent wave of activism is significant. As a society, we are being forced to grapple with racial disparities in policing.

There are a lot of policy and legislative proposals that have been introduced by public and elected officials at every level of government and by activists and community organizations. We’ve compiled this overview to help you make sense of everything that is out there so you can advocate for the policies you support. Read on to learn about different frameworks for police reform, demands from the community, and policy proposals from public and elected officials.

Police Reform Proposals from Local Organizers
  1. The Black Activist/Organizer Collective’s 12 Demands – The Black Activist Collective includes 1Hood Media, the Alliance for Police Accountability, Take Action Mon Valley, and other organizations, along with Allegheny County Councilwoman Liv Bennett and State Representative Summer Lee. They released 12 demands related to policing on June 15, 2020. They have asked the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to respond within seven days.
    • The 12 demands are:
      1. Defund the police, fund Black communities
      2. Demilitarize the police
      3. End the criminalization of Black people
      4. Remove all police from schools
      5. Make all collective bargaining with police public
      6. Terminate Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police President Robert Swartzwelder (a city police officer)
      7. Disband all private police departments
      8. End “no knock” warrants
      9. Cease partnership with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
      10. End cash bail
      11. Release of all vulnerable individuals from jail
      12. Create an independent, fully funded civilian review board
    • Mayor Peduto’s Response to 12 Collective Demands (6/22/20)
    • County Executive Fitzgerald’s Open Letter (6/29/20)
  2. Cops Out of Pittsburgh Public Schools – A coalition of organizations are calling for Pittsburgh Public Schools to remove all school police, end systems of policing, and invest in other areas to support students.
Police Reform Proposals from Local, State, and Federal Governments

Pittsburgh

  1. Mayor Peduto’s Police Reform Agenda – Released on June 4, 2020, the agenda outlines policies that the Mayor previously supported and a commitment to additional policies.
  2. City Proposal for Office of Community Health and Safety – The Mayor’s Office, Office of Equity, and Department of Public Safety released a proposal for a new Office of Community Health and Safety on June 12, 2020. The office “will redirect city resources to better meet community needs by housing social services, public health and social work experts who can assist first responders in situations that require longer-term assistance, harm reduction support and other services.”
  3. Pittsburgh City Council Legislation – Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in City Council to address police reform.
    • Councilman Reverend Ricky Burgess has introduced multiple bills:
      • Bill 404 – Create a “Stop the Violence Fund” for community violence prevention
      • Bill 405 – Require police officers and employees to intervene if a colleague uses inappropriate force or deprives a person of their rights
      • Bill 406 – Prohibit city from acquiring military equipment/weaponry
      • Bill 410 – Transfer $250k from police salaries to “Stop the Violence Fund”
      • Bill 447 – Add a referendum question to the ballot that, if passed by the voters in the 2020 November General Election, would amend the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter to expand the powers of the Independent Citizen Police Review Board
    • Councilman Bruce Kraus introduced legislation that would authorize up to $25,000 to the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB) to enter into a contract with Densus Group, a national consulting company managed by military veterans, to provide input on police-citizen relations and the Pittsburgh police bureau’s use of force
    • Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle and Burgess introduced legislation to ban police officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints on suspects
    • Additional information:

Allegheny County

  1. Allegheny County Council Legislation 
    • Ban on Less-Lethal Weapons: Councilors Liv Bennett and Bethany Hallam introduced legislation that would ban police use of less-lethal weapons, including rubber bullets, bean-bag rounds, tear gas, flashbang grenades, plastic bullets, and other chemical, explosive, and “kinetic” munitions. Some of these weapons have been used by police in recent weeks as a form of crowd control during protests.
    • Ban on No-Knock Warrants: Councilwoman Bethany Hallam introduced legislation to ban no-knock warrants.
    • Citizen Police Review Board: Some County Councilmembers have pushed for the creation of a County Citizen Police Review Board to review allegations of misconduct against Allegheny County law enforcement; other municipalities in the County could opt in.

Pennsylvania

  1. State House Legislation – Numerous pieces of legislation addressing police reform have been introduced in the House in the past two years. Recent calls from the public and advocacy by the Legislative Black Caucus has resulted in some of these bills moving recently.
  2. State Legislature Police Reform Working Group Proposals – The Working Group, made up of state legislators, laid out police reform proposals that could be enacted by different branches and levels of government and by police forces themselves. Several of the reforms have been introduced as legislation in the PA House.
  3. PA Senate Democrats Police Reform Package – Members of the PA Senate Democratic Caucus have introduced a package of legislation to reform policing in Pennsylvania. The package includes legislation that addresses training and accountability, strengthening municipal civilian police oversight, improving standards for use of force, and more.
    • Legislation passed by the Senate:
      • Senate Bill 459: Mandates all police departments maintain records of use of force incidents that detail the event; the records would be sent to the PA State Police and reported to the General Assembly
        • Status: Passed by Senate on June 24, 2020; Needs to be passed by the House
      • Senate Bill 1205: Bans the use of chokeholds in an officer’s efforts to detain an individual and would require every municipal police department to adopt a use of force policy
        • Status: Passed by the Senate on June 24, 2020; Needs to be passed by the House
    • Additional information:
  4. Governor Wolf’s Police Reform Recommendations – On June 4, 2020 Governor Wolf released a series of recommendations, largely based on the 21st Century Police Task Force’s recommendations.
    • Highlights include:
      •  Forming new committees and subcommittees to address issues like fraud and misconduct among law enforcement agencies and to support local citizen advisory boards
      • Enhancing officer safety and wellness
      • Supporting legislative reforms, among other things
    • The PA State Troopers Association opposes these reforms.

Federal

  1. Justice in Policing Act of 2020 – U.S. House and Senate Democrats introduced this reform package on June 8, 2020. The changes proposed would only apply to federal officers, but the legislation includes incentives for local and state governments to adopt the same reforms for their police forces, including demilitarizing police forces, revising use of force policies, mandating racial bias trainings, and more.
  2. Justice Act – Senate Republicans unveiled police reform legislation on June 17, 2020. The legislation increases federal reporting requirements for use of force and no-knock warrants, encourages local police forces to end the use of chokeholds, creates a database of police disciplinary records, makes lynching a federal crime, and more.
  3. President Trump’s Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities – On June 16, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order that creates federal incentives for local police departments to adopt certain reforms, including banning chokeholds “except if an officer’s life is at risk,” raising standards for use of force and de-escalation trainings through “independent credentialing,” and encouraging officers to bring “co-responders” who are experts in things like addiction, mental health, and homelessness to respond to police calls. The order also directs the Justice Department to maintain a database to track police misconduct.
  4. Additional Resources on Federal Response:
Additional Local Context, Frameworks, and Resources

Local Context (Pittsburgh and Allegheny County)

Frameworks and Resources

Contacting Your Representatives

To advocate for the policy changes you want to see, you can contact your representatives at the local, state, and national levels of government. Use the resources below to look up your representatives and find contact information:

  1. Mayor Peduto’s Office
  2. Pittsburgh City Council
  3. Allegheny County Council
  4. Look up your representatives in the State House, State Senate and the U.S House 
  5. U.S. Senate