As the country braces for unrest, here’s what you should know about staying safe in Pittsburgh

The country is on edge after a mob incited by the president overtook the U.S. Capitol last week, resulting in the death of five people and a sense that the security of American democracy is at risk. 

The Washington Post reported that right-wing groups are planning additional armed marches leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration, according to Alethea Group, which analyzes and combats disinformation online. The report by Alethea Group’ showed plans for activity in all 50 state capitals as well as some other cities, including Pittsburgh. In a Jan. 12 statement, the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office said the agency is aware of reports of possible “protests in our area,” and that FBI agents interviewed a “Pittsburgh-based individual” cited in the report.

(Photo via iStock)

Facial recognition use spiked after the Capitol riot. Privacy advocates are leery.

The Capitol riot marks another notable moment in the ongoing facial recognition debate. 

The facial recognition app Clearview AI saw an increase in use the day after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, the New York Times reported. As police departments throughout the United States are helping the FBI identify rioters, some are reportedly using facial recognition technology. 

The use of facial recognition last year to investigate suspected crimes related to Black Lives Matter protests raised privacy and First Amendment concerns from activists, advocates and some lawmakers. Studies show the technology, which attempts to match an uploaded image of a person to other images in a photo database, is less accurate at identifying people of color and women. Facial recognition has also resulted in at least three Black men being wrongfully arrested.

Amanda Papa, 33, of Coraopolis, was arrested during a mental health crisis in 2018. “The whole thing could’ve just been stopped, and we [would] probably pay the therapist way less than these officers, these courts, all the staff, all the records — everything." (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Resolved to change: Can Allegheny County behavioral crisis teams move fast enough to answer calls for reform?

Someone you love is having a breakdown. They could hurt themselves. Who do you call? If 911 leaps to mind, you’ll likely get a visit in a few minutes — from police, whose training includes behavioral health but is focused more on addressing criminality. If you can remember 1-888-796-8226 (or 1-888-7-YOU-CAN), you’ll get a mental health professional from resolve Crisis Services, a 13-year-old unit of UPMC hired by Allegheny County to handle behavioral incidents.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Allegheny County Council considers bill regulating facial recognition and other surveillance technologies

A new bill could regulate Allegheny County’s use of facial recognition and other surveillance technology. Legislation introduced to Allegheny County Council Tuesday would require county officials to obtain council’s approval before soliciting, acquiring or using facial recognition or other surveillance technologies, except in extreme circumstances. It would also require a public policy detailing how each technology can be used. “The public use of facial surveillance can chill the exercise of constitutionally protected free speech,” the bill states, also noting the technology is less accurate in identifying the faces of women and people of color. “...The benefits of using face surveillance, which are few and speculative, are greatly outweighed by its harms, which are substantial.” 

Councilwoman at-large Bethany Hallam, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, told PublicSource: “We’re trying to bring transparency and accountability to one of the least transparent and accountable facets of law enforcement, and that’s surveillance.” The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Councilwoman Olivia Bennett whose district includes Downtown, North Side and Bellevue Borough.

Robert Aldred flips through photos on his phone showing injuries sustained when a police dog bit him in June 2017. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Police chase settlement pushes lawsuit payouts beyond $12 million since 2009

PublicSource reviewed the cases because federal court is typically the referee of last resort in disputes between citizens and police. Officials sometimes portray the court as a backstop against other systems’ shortcomings. Scholars of law enforcement, though, view federal court as an uneven playing field on which results have little to do with the severity of a constitutional violation or the injuries caused.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Behavioral crisis responses and police are focus of new, unannounced Allegheny County panel

As incidents both local and national continue to raise questions about policing and mental health, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services [DHS] has quietly convened a panel that appears to be reviewing the public safety and social services response to behavioral health crises. The 28-member Allegheny County Crisis Response Stakeholder Group held its first full meeting, virtually, on Friday. The meeting included remarks by DHS staff including Director Marc Cherna, plus county Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert, and representatives of The Pittsburgh Foundation* and the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Its formation does not appear to have been heralded by any public announcement. It comes as the city sees near-daily protests demanding changes in policing, sometimes including calls to “defund” police, which some describe as the shift of law enforcement resources to human services or community building.