1998-1999: CPRB Staff Development

Selecting the Messengers

Among the many critical tasks facing an emerging organization is the selection of personnel. The Board undertook this aspect of development with diligence. The Members received hundreds of resumes and applications for the pivotal position of Executive Director. The Department of Personnel and Civil Service assisted the Board by screening applicants for qualification under the civil service standards established by the Board and Civil Service Commission. Seeking to balance civilian and law enforcement interests the Board interviewed over 150 applicants for the position. Ultimately, they chose a civilian attorney whose background included service as a military prosecutor and as a public defender.

The Board and Executive Director then focused on hiring investigators, and again seeking a balance in expertise and interests, selected a former military police officer, a social worker, and a police officer who relinquished enforcement power and relocated to accept the position.

The daily operational support of the activities in the CPRB office was entrusted to several individuals sympathetic to the cause with an undeniable stake in the success of the CPRB.

The City Code specifies that the Board’s office may not be located in any facility which houses any police offices. Accordingly, the Board located an office convenient to City offices, common bus routes, and parking facilities. On July 15, 1998, the office opened to transact public business.

“Police review panel softens stance

Board members say they will try to settle record dispute with city”

(Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 8/28/1998)

 

“Director excluded as board, city meet” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 9/03/1998)

The artificial barriers constructed by the City administration to prevent the CPRB from lawful access to information were reinforced by a series of harsh communications and misunderstandings between CPRB staff and numerous City staff. The tension was palpable and did not escape the scrutiny of the media. The ensuing controversy led to a deteriorated relationship between the Board and its Executive Director leading to the departure of the Executive Director. Their relationship with the City was strained, office staff was alienated, community advocates were dismayed, and the Board was faced with finding another executive Director.

“Police Review Board agrees to work to avoid subpoenas”

(Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 12/09/1998)

 

Police review board director resigns”

(Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 1/09/1999)

All of this by December 1998, its public image having evolved a mere 5 months!

What happened next?

An interim Executive Director was appointed on 1/19/1999 and by April 1999, the operation was stabilizing and business becoming fairly routine. An agreement with the City regarding access to certain information was executed on 3/19/1999. Policies and procedures were implemented to structure various activities and meetings adopted a consistent pattern of business. Further staff transitions occurred and the intake procedures were standardized. Data collection for accountability and monitoring were initiated and communications with police officers and complainants were refined.

There was some debate in the beginning as to the form in which the CPRB could best be established: as an authority or as an independent unit of government. The CPRB is an independent unit of city government, but one facet of the organization that might have been better served had it been an authority, is personnel management.

The CPRB functions within the constraints of city policy as constructed by its incumbent administration. This subordinates personnel decisions to parties appointed or managed by the executive branch. If hostility exists between the CPRB and the administration, personnel actions could be undermined. Likewise, if the opposite was true and the administration supported the CPRB, personnel transactions would be close to effortless.

A delay in replacing staff when a vacancy occurred was not unlike the CPRB’s experience with delayed appointments to the Board. Additionally, 6.5 of the 8.5 staff positions originally allocated to the CPRB were AFSCME positions; the executive Assistant and the Executive Director were, and remain, at-will.

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