Beth Pittinger Talks Civil Rights and Pittsburgh

20 Apr

 This is Civil Pittsburgh’s First installment of our audio speaker’s series.  You’ll be hearing from Beth Pittinger the Executive director of Pittsburgh’s Citizens Police Review Board.

 Bringing Individuals together to promote civil rights and civil liberties.

CP: Today we’ll be hearing from Beth Pittinger, the executive director of the Citizens Police Review Board.

Beth Pittinger: When we talk about civil liberties and civil rights—those are the ideals of an American democracy.  They are expressed in the Constitution.   They are what they are, and everything stems from that.  The more that we permit an organized, albeit elected, government to infringe on peoples liberties—it’s that slippery slope thing—and the more you give up a little bit, you’re going to give it all up.  You’re going to find yourself terribly frustrated and being a servant to a government, which is the inverse of what we’re supposed to be.

CP: The Citizens Police Review Board is an independent agency set up to investigate citizens’ complaints about improper police conduct.

Beth Pittinger: The board was created by referendum amendment to the home rule charter of the City of Pittsburgh, as a result of the failed policies and practices of the past.  There were lies and cover-ups and just a horrendous abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and influences on the community that ultimately led to an approach to city council to try to pass some sort of civilian oversight of law enforcement in Pittsburgh.  City Council couldn’t get it done.  They could not pass legislation to create oversight, and as a result the people just circulated petitions, put it on the ballot and overwhelmingly the electorate approved it.

CP: Civilian oversight is a step towards building a more accountable police force, but it shouldn’t diminish from what they’re doing.

Beth Pittinger:  We have more really good people as police officers in this town than bad.  It’s all the clichés; squeaky wheels, a few bad apples, but the industry average is something like five to ten percent, and I’d say that’s been our experience.

CP:  It is also important to remember that the board does not give a free pass to criminals.  It was put in place to assure that those protecting Pittsburgh held themselves to the same standards that they expect every other citizen to live by.

Beth Pittinger: For a while it was feeling like there was this diminution of social expectations codified in law.  Everybody wants to whatever they want to do, and police should not stop, question or do anything to intervene.  That’s not ok.  That is when chaos ensues.  When you have laws you have to follow them until you can change them, if you disagree with them.

CP:  The Citizens Police Review Board wants to send a message that the police are not above the law.  Ms. Pittinger discusses the challenges of reprimanding officers.

Beth Pittinger: Repeats.  The same officers over and over and over again.  Then you have the problem, why are the even still on the job.  If you look at some at some that have been terminated recently and have returned to the job: You have Officer Paul Abel.  He was in a bar off-duty, came out, alleges somebody punched him.  He chased, pistol whipped, and shot a kid.  We just settled that case for $40,000.

CP:  Holding police accountable should reduce these types of incidences in the future.  The city of Pittsburgh is currently defending incidences that stemmed from the G-20 Summit in 2009, potentially costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Ms. Pittinger discusses the G-20

Beth Pittinger – Let’s look at the LRAD, the long range acoustic device.  That has an aversive effect on people.  It can create hearing damage.   Why is it designed so the operator can be behind the dish?  Because you can’t hear it behind the dish.   Where are the standards for deployment of LRAD? And to use it for the first time ever for domestic crowd control, here in Pittsburgh, when nobody even bothered to come to Pittsburgh to Protest.  That’s where I’m worrying about the tenor of the social tolerance.  It’s ok to protest.  It’s ok to criticize the government. 

CP: This is civil Pittsburgh bringing individuals together to promote civil rights and civil liberties.  The Citizens police review board describes their mission as, “Fulfilling the will of the people …to improve relations between the community and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.”  If we can work together, we can all have a more just and civil Pittsburgh.


Civil Pittsburgh Speaker’s series intro music courtesy of Ball of Flame Shoot Fire

All other Sounds and music courtesyof


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