The demands included demilitarizing the police, removing city officers from schools, firing the head of the police union, and decreasing funds to police so the money could be invested in communities instead. The list of demands came amid protests for police reform and justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two unarmed Black people who were killed by police. The calls grew louder after a peaceful protest in East Liberty ended in tear gas and rubber bullets.
In his statement, Peduto outlined a response to each demand. In response to the call to defund the police, Peduto said he is focused on rebalancing the city’s capital and operating budget.
“While I am proud of the progress we’ve made to advance racial equity and build safer and healthier communities, I am committed to taking action to reform our Bureau of Police in a meaningful and community-driven way, while still investing in social and public health services,” Peduto said.
As for the demand that the city demilitarize by not acquiring military equipment for officers, Peduto wrote that “the City has not been participating in the purchase of any military surplus for a number of years. It is always important to reassess our current practices to ensure that our public safety approach is one that is rooted in protecting and serving the community and carried out with equipment appropriate for civilian settings.”
He had a similar response to a demand that police not engage in “no-knock” warrants, in which police enter a home without announcing themselves first. The practice led to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own Louisville, Ken. home. Peduto called the practice “dangerous” and said “Pittsburgh Bureau of Police does not currently engage in ‘No Knock’ Warrants or plan to implement this practice in the future.”
He also touted his support for the “8 Can’t Wait Campaign,” which includes banning police practices like using chokeholds, shooting at moving vehicles and to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before using deadly force.
Peduto also said he supports legislation by state Representatives Summer Lee and Ed Gainey which would prohibit police from using deadly force during arrests except in cases with imminent threats of harm.
In response to the demand that police be removed from all schools, Peduto noted that Pittsburgh Police only operate in schools when school officials request them. Pittsburgh Public Schools has its own security force.
“While PPS serves as the governing body for all policies and programs for public education in Pittsburgh (not the City of Pittsburgh), I fully understand the need for opportunities to address gaps when it relates to students in public schools,” he said. “Mental health and emotional support are only a few of the unmet needs of students. Additional staff to support these issues may serve as best practices, and the city of Pittsburgh invites the opportunity to collaborate on solutions.”
On other issues, Peduto said the city’s hands were tied. Activists had sought to make police union contract negotations more transparent by opening them up to the public, but Peduto said the state’s Act 111, which governs labor talks with public-safety workers, precluded that. He said labor law also prevented the city from removing Fraternal Order of Police union head Bob Swartzwelder from his position on the force.
On Tuesday, activists said they received his response, and are going through it.