Ultimately, the people of the City of Pittsburgh had had enough, and in the true spirit of democracy, dealt with the issue themselves….
Following the defeat of City Council Bill 1996-397, Council considered legislation to let voters decide through referendum if a civilian review board should be created. In December 1996, the bill was tabled on a 4-4 vote with the absent member opposed to the measure. A final vote was never taken.
The stalemate on Council’s action to place the question before the voters motivated some Council members and hundreds of interested citizens to pursue a petition campaign.
To be successful in placing the question on the ballot, the petition drive needed 10,339 signatures. The coalition managing the campaign filed 17,524 signatures on 634 pages with the Allegheny County Elections Department on 2/18/1997.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Ft. Pitt Lodge No. 1, filed a challenge to the validity of signatures on the petitions in the Court of Common Pleas. On 4/08/1997, the trial court reduced to 12,065 the number of valid signatures and ordered that the question appear on the ballot on Primary Election Day, 5/20/1997.
The FOP appealed to Commonwealth Court which determined that there were 11,002 valid signatures (663 more than required) and upheld the trial court’s determination that question must appear on the ballot.
On 5/12/1997, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ordered that the following question appear on the 5/20/1997 ballot:
“Shall the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended by adding the following sections to Article Two? Yes/No
§ 228. Independent Citizen Review Board.
There is established an Independent Citizen Review Board, composed of seven members reflecting Pittsburgh’s diversity, for the purpose of receiving, investigating and recommending appropriate action on complaints regarding police misconduct and for the purpose of improving the relationship between the police department and the community.
The members shall serve four year staggered terms and serve until the appointment of their successors.
Four of the seven appointments shall be made from a list of nine nominations submitted to the Mayor by City Council.
Members shall be residents of the City, shall not be employed by the City or any of its Authorities, and shall serve without compensation.
§ 229. Powers of Independent Citizen Review Board.
The Board shall:
- Investigate selected complaints filed by individuals alleging police misconduct.
- Establish a mediation program pursuant to which a complainant may voluntarily choose to resolve a complaint by means of informal mediation.
- Provide advice and recommendations to the Mayor and Chief of Police on policies and actions of the Police Bureau, including recommendations on police training, hiring and disciplinary policies and specific recommendations of discipline for individual officer; provided, however, the Mayor and the Chief of Police shall retain full and ultimate authority to set disciplinary policies or take other actions deemed appropriate relative to the Police Bureau.
- Hold public hearings, subpoena witnesses and compel their attendance, administer oaths, take the testimony of any person under oath and in connection therewith require the production of evidence relating to any matter under investigation or any questions before the Board and do all other things necessary to fulfill its purpose.
- The Board shall employ and supervise a staff including a solicitor, as necessary. The Board shall adopt procedures and rules necessary to fulfill its purpose. City Council may by ordinance adopt regulations to effectuate this Charter provision.
§ 230. Responses to Recommendations of Independent Citizen Review Board
Within thirty (30) days of submission of a recommendation by the Board to the Mayor and the Chief of Police, they shall respond in writing as to whether such recommendations are accepted, rejected or will be implemented with modifications.”
The Vote: May 20, 1997
The perception that the CPRB was created in response to a concern limited to minority communities was quickly dispelled when the numbers came in:
57.3% of those voting on the question approved the amendments to the Home Rule Charter thereby creating an Independent Citizen Review Board (§228, §229, §230).
42.7% voted against the amendments.
The measure won in 20 and lost in 12 of the 32 City Wards, prevailing in 6 of the 9 City Council Districts.
On May 21, 1997, the City had two significant and unrelated entities providing oversight of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. One (the US District Court/Consent Decree) is temporary, the other (the CPRB) is at the will of the citizens of Pittsburgh.