Remarks of the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney For The Western District of Pennsylvania
Community Police Relations Group Forum
Good evening. Thank you for joining us tonight.
I want to begin by specifically thanking the IBEW and especially IBEW President Mike Dunleavy for hosting this important community meeting on police/community trust. Tonight’s meeting is the culmination of nearly two years of hard work. This wonderful facility is a perfect venue, and we are grateful. Later you will hear directly from Tim Wisyanski, Assistant Director of Training for the IBEW of the great work being done here—it is truly remarkable in form and substance—providing opportunity for thousands of Western Pennsylvania residents to train for the jobs of today and tomorrow in a state of the art facility in a program funded by the local union members.
The Community Police Relations Group first convened in May of 2011. The group was formed because it was very apparent to me that a significant amount of distrust exists between law enforcement and the community which has resulted in a huge disconnect that needs to be addressed and bridged.
One of the first things we learned is there are two deeply rooted misconceptions: that law enforcement does not care about what happens in the predominantly minority communities; and that the predominantly minority communities do not care about helping or cooperating with law enforcement to prevent and solve crimes within their communities. These misconceptions have been nurtured and fed over time by negative perceptions and stereotypes on both sides which has allowed the level of distrust and lack of respect to fester and grow.
In our efforts to build trust between law enforcement and the community within our group, we conducted listening sessions where each side was able to speak candidly and the other side would listen openly.
I and other members of the group will tell you that this was not an easy process, but it was very necessary to bring this group together as partners. We have not and will not all always agree on every issue, but today we are united and standing on the common ground of leading a commitment to improve community police relations.
Through our meetings, we have adopted a three-part strategy called the “Perez Principles”, which serves as both our organizing foundation as well as our objectives. The Perez Principles are a strategy developed by Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez to frame police and community relations. The Perez Principles are:
- Reducing crime and increasing public safety;
- Ensuring policing that respects the law and the Constitution; and
- Ensuring and enhancing respect for and from law enforcement.
As part of our collective education, we invited Kansas City Police Officers Jack Colwell and Chip Huth to share the model set forth in their book, Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect, which demonstrated improvement in both crime rates and officer safety through community engagement and respectful outreach. As one example, by simply putting a pot of coffee at a police zone office and inviting the residents in to visit and talk, mutual fear and distrust was reduced and a shared partnership for policing and public safety developed. Natural community leaders were identified and became partners with law enforcement.
Another accomplishment resulting from our joint efforts is the development of a Crisis Team. In October of 2012, we formed a crisis communications team consisting of both community and law enforcement members from our group to improve communication to the community when a potentially tense law enforcement situation occurs. The Crisis Team’s purpose is to squelch speculation, reduce tension and deliver facts through timely release of information to the community.
The Crisis Team members are:
- Esther Bush, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh;
- Bill Mullen, Allegheny County Sheriff;
- John Welch, Chief Chaplain for the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and Dean of Students for Pittsburgh Theological Seminary;
- Sheldon Williams, Assistant Pastor of Allegheny Center Alliance Church and former police officer; and
- Maurita Bryant, Assistant Chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
We have also adopted a community restoration model with the goal of improving the quality of life for residents; developing a partnership between the community and law enforcement; and strengthening the foundation of the community. You will hear more about these efforts later from Commander RaShall Brackney.
We studied reform efforts in other cities, such as Cincinnati and Boston, and tried to learn from the investigations of police in New Orleans and Seattle.
We have conducted four community-based meetings to discuss improving community police relations. In keeping with our united focus, each these meetings took place at facilities dedicated to serving their communities.
On January 20th, our meeting was held at Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg. Hosanna House is a multi-purpose community center whose mission is to provide opportunities that will empower families physically, spiritually and economically. We would like to thank Executive Director, Leon Haynes, and his staff for their great work and their hospitality.
On February 20, we were at the Focus on Renewal Community Center in McKees Rocks. Focus on Renewal has been a beacon of hope for the Sto-Rox community for over 40 years, and now also includes the Sto-Rox Family Health Center. We thank Father Regis Ryan and Sister Sarah Crotty and their staff for their tireless efforts and commitment to improving the lives of those they serve and for allowing us to use their facility.
On March 7, our meeting for the Mon Valley was hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead. As most of you may know, the AIU provides specialized educational services to Allegheny County's 42 suburban school districts and five vocational/technical schools. We thank Alicia Chico and the entire AIU staff for her offer to host the Mon Valley meeting and for her continuing assistance in broadening our community connections while focusing on youth.
On April 2, we conducted a meeting at the Vintage Senior Community Center in East Liberty. Vintage is committed to improving and influencing the experience of one of our most precious commodities—our senior citizens by promoting their social and physical well-being. We want to thank Vintage for allowing us to use their impressive facility for the City of Pittsburgh meeting. In particular we wish to thank Executive Director, Ann Truxell and her staff for hosting us.
In order to identify the perceptions of the community, thousands of surveys were distributed and collected in each community. These surveys provided direct feedback from community members regarding their perceptions of community police relations and safety. We learned a lot from these surveys, which we studied at each meeting. Next you will hear from Professor David Harris, who has been invaluable to this entire process, on the lessons learned from the community meetings, which he has so accurately dubbed “the listening tour”.
END OF OPENING REMARKS
“Thank you,” to everyone who has shown your commitment by your presence here tonight. Special thanks goes to Professor Harris, who has been so generous with his time and wise with his insights. The team of Tamara Collier, Margaret Philbin, Mary Esther Van Shura, Brandi Fisher, RaShall Brackney, Ted Johnson, Joe Lagana, George Simmons and Mad Dads has been tireless in developing surveys, tabulating results, organizing site venues, calling community leaders and the many hours that have gone into this. Our work is a work in progress and the outcome remains unknown. Here, now, we have a chance to do something really special. Engaging in this process has made us better, more aware, more attuned already.
Our problems here are not unique—community-police mistrust is a universal issue. It is not new, and it will not resolve quickly. But, we have a historic opportunity to end the cycle of dysfunction; to stop talking and start acting positively to make a better day.
To begin anew, we must first accept that perceptions are not reality. A community is not defined by the small segment of rogue criminals who tyrannize the law-abiding citizens. A police department is not defined by the small minority who act inappropriately or illegally in doing their work. If we have learned anything over the last two years, it is that the communities in Western Pennsylvania and law enforcement want the same thing: they want to work together to better protect the public, to ensure that our officers return home safely at the end of their shifts, and that a spirit of trust and mutual respect exists in their daily encounters on the streets.
Our path is clear—relationships will defeat stereotypes. “We” must replace “us” v. “them.” We need to develop a community consensus and commitment to address the root causes of crime and foster a police-community partnership to deal with our shared challenge.
When you put aside all the misconceptions about race, gender, ethnicity, class, position, opportunities or lack thereof and fear of what we do not understand, we see that we are all really very much the same. We all simply want to live a safe and peaceful existence and keep our children and families safe. Not just because it is the basic right of every citizen, but because it is the right thing to do.
When a police officer is killed, we ALL hurt. No one should be able look into the faces of those grieving families without being affected by their loss.
When a parent or grandparent from the community is grieving over the senseless killing of their teenage child or grandchild, we should ALL feel their pain.
Law enforcement officers want to perform their duties as sworn public servants to protect and serve and return home safe to their families.
All community members want to know that they and their children can live free from fear and violence in their own neighborhood.
We are determined, through our commitment to do what is right, to not let history repeat itself and have these efforts die off and be seen as just talk. This is a call to action to each of you to ensure that does not happen.
For the safety of all, law enforcement must make the effort to eliminate perceptions about the communities they serve.
Also for the safety of all, community members must take responsibility for the problems in their communities and make the effort to cooperate with law enforcement.
We all must lead by example and work together to provide more opportunities for our young people to know and see law enforcement as a positive force in their lives.
Ensuring good and safe police work and ensuring the protection of constitutional rights are complementary goals and not in conflict.
Our efforts to move forward will start with the following:
- A Community Development Workshop in June;
- Community Listening Sessions beginning in June:
- A Youth Summit in the Fall
In addition, I call upon the community leadership and police to make better use of all resources – state, local and federal - to engage in relationship building efforts at the neighborhood level. Specifically, I hope that we can begin on the North Side, in Homewood, the Hill District and in Carrick-Beltzhoover to work towards a return to beat patrols, Police Athletic Leagues and block watches which have proved to be successful in the past.
We also pledge to work with existing community resources and partners to improve the safety for community members, victims and witnesses who cooperate with law enforcement. Today, I can say we are very aggressive to protect those who speak out and bear witness, but we need to improve the victim witness services and protection. Most of all we need to eliminate the stigma and danger of “snitching.”
Now is the time to take ownership of these efforts. Sign up to show your commitment.
We live in dangerous times. Random and targeted community violence still afflicts us – look what happened in Homewood yesterday. Violence directed against police and law enforcement is at unprecedented levels. We have a common enemy and we need to come together.
To prepare for tonight’s meeting, I spent time at the Heinz History Museum visiting the 1968 exhibit, which I commend to all of you. As I left the exhibit, I focused upon a display containing the words of Hubert Humphrey talking about the historic struggles of that year and they seem to offer inspiration for our work today: “The future has many names – the weak call it impossible; the faint of heart call it unclear and uncertain; the thoughtful see it as ideal – our challenge is urgent; the task is large; and the time is now.”
Let’s work together with a shared commitment to make a better place for ourselves, our families and neighbors and our communities.
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