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Review board getting fewer complaints

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

By Ann Belser, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board has seen a reduction in complaints of police misconduct this year, but the board's executive director said that doesn't mean police are better behaved.

Elizabeth C. Pittinger said she believes police are discouraging people from filing complaints.

At a review board meeting last night, Pittinger said three people recently told her that police were complaining that review board oversight was preventing them from doing their jobs.

Elizabeth S. Stadtlander, spokeswoman for the city police union, said officers were not discouraging citizens from filing reports. But she did say that she believes city police are subject to extraordinary oversight.

Stadtlander said city police are not only under the scrutiny of the review board but also the city's Office of Municipal Investigations and the U.S. Department of Justice under a consent decree the city entered.

She said there are three different complaint systems, two of which allow anonymous complaints. "It's excessive," she said.

"What they say is that oversight from the Citizen Police Review Board and oversight from the consent decree makes it difficult and makes officers less likely to be proactive. But officers still do their jobs," Stadlander said. "But it makes them watch everything they do because people can still file anonymous complaints."

So far this year, 48 sworn complaints have been filed to the review board against Pittsburgh police officers. At this time last year, there had been 60 sworn complaints. The board has the power to investigate complaints, hold hearings and recommend disciplinary action.

Pittinger said police are encouraging residents to stay silent about misconduct -- claiming that if complaints are made, they won't be able to function effectively to protect them. Pittinger termed the police tactic "intimidation."

She said she will talk to Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. about the problem, saying when officers ask citizens not to complain, it causes all officers to be "perceived in an inappropriate light."

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