Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper must give the Citizen Police Review Board detailed reports related to dozens of arrests and police operations during the G-20 summit, a judge ruled Thursday, a decision the board's director said reaffirms its power to study broad issues of police and community relations.
In a formal subpoena to the chief, the review board sought detailed information about how police ran operations for the events, including training records, reported injuries and procedures for crowd dispersal during protests in Oakland and Lawrenceville. When he refused, the board sought a court order forcing him to turn over the documents.
"These documents are relevant for an overall review of the manner in which law enforcement responded to G-20 activities," Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick wrote in the ruling.
Chief Harper has 20 days to deliver reports related to the arrests of 29 people, a roster of police officers involved in G-20 events, their training records, a summary of reported injuries, policies on riot control, an accounting of the city's stockpile of less-lethal munitions, including pepper spray, from before and after the summit, and other information.
The city initially refused, saying that because the G-20 was a "national special security event," with the Secret Service leading security preparations, certain documents would be privileged under federal law. If that's the case, Judge Wettick wrote, the city should prepare a "privilege log" detailing why it can't release each document.
At the heart of the case were questions about the extent of the review board's power. The city said the board overstepped its bounds with the subpoena because it was limited to investigating only matters for which it has a formal, verified complaint of police misconduct.
Only five of the 29 people arrested filed complaints with the review board, and the city said it did not need to comply with parts of the subpoena seeking documents for incidents for which no formal complaints had been filed.
The city said the board had no power to initiate its own investigations. Judge Wettick disagreed.
A city ordinance that lists the board's powers says that, among other tasks, it is required to provide the chief and mayor with advice and recommendations on police training, hiring and disciplinary policies.
"The provision would need to disappear before I could rule that the board was only authorized to investigate selected complaints filed by individuals alleging police misconduct," Judge Wettick wrote.
The city can appeal the judge's decision. Solicitor Dan Regan could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
The review board's executive director, Elizabeth Pittinger, said the judge's decision should reassure the community that the board has the power to effect change.
"It's huge," she said. "It's certainly a reaffirmation of the board's purpose and the powers to accomplish that purpose."
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