Banning chokeholds, prohibiting the acquisition of military equipment and implementing a hiring freeze are some of the recent steps Pittsburgh city council has taken to reform the city’s police. But do council members think they’re enough? And what more can they do?
A task force made up of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies has charged 32 people with crimes related to the recent Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh. In a majority of the cases, charging documents show that law enforcement used social media as a tool to identify suspects and gather evidence on alleged crimes. In early June, after protests in Downtown and East Liberty over the death of George Floyd, the City of Pittsburgh created the Damage Assessment and Accountability Task Force [DAAT] to investigate incidents of violence, looting and vandalism at recent protests. DAAT has so far charged 32 people — including several prominent local activists — in a total of 34 cases, with alleged crimes stemming from the protests. The charges range from disorderly conduct and failure to disperse to burglary and weapons of mass destruction.
“Dystopian” and “'Black Mirror'-esque” are among the ways critics have described Clearview, a facial recognition technology startup founded in 2016. The program’s ability to scrape photos off of the web and instantly aggregate information on just about anyone with an online presence, without their knowledge, has drawn the ire of privacy advocates, Democratic lawmakers and the same social media companies it relies on for data.
The system has been used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad — including, as newly obtained records show, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
Emails obtained by PublicSource through an open records request show that Clearview trial accounts were linked to email addresses of four employees in the office of District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.: analysts Andrew Colvin, Ted DeAngelis and Norah Xiong, and detective Lyle Graber. The trials started at different times, with emails first referencing a trial on Feb. 7 and last noting a log in on March 17. Three of the employee accounts were signed in to more than once.
“If we know that xenophobia and Islamophobia and vilification of marginalized and minority communities is less of an issue in America, then people will feel safer. If we know that that’s not the case and we are not moving towards that, then people don’t feel safe.”
Because lawmakers gave limited authority to the agency responsible for police certification, Pennsylvania has no oversight over noncriminal findings of misconduct, aside from dishonesty during the certification process.
East Pittsburgh is grappling with the fate of its police force, leaning on solutions like consolidation that have long-been discussed in the fragmented region, largely without success.
Will crisis force change? In East Pittsburgh, officials hope so. But interviews with numerous chiefs and leaders in the region reveal a persistent status quo, where funding drastically differs across a patchwork of boroughs and some communities struggle to recruit officers to work breakneck hours for dismal pay.