In Pgh., Reformers Call for Decreased Police Funding, More Community Investments

By Lauryn Nania

PITTSBURGH— The Coalition to Reimagine Public Safety gathered on the steps of the Pittsburgh City County Building on June 19 to discuss its goals to cut the Pittsburgh police budget and channel those funds to invest in resources for more numerous efforts to address issues arising from violence, homelessness, drug use and mental health.

The goal of these policy changes, the coalition said, is to make Pittsburgh safer and more livable for minority communities.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto took office in 2014, and Pittsburgh’s police budget in that year was $74 million.

Since then, the Pittsburgh police budget has grown nearly 60% to a budget of $115 million, according to a recent report by the Abolitionist Law Center. This number is equivalent to one-fifth of the city’s annual budget. The Coalition to Reinvent Public Safety expressed at a press conference the desire to cut the police budget, at a minimum, by $40 million to devote to other community investments.

Jasiri X, Founder of 1Hood Media, spoke about the structural and systematic violence that minority communities face and how violent crime is often a result of these issues. Without resources available to these communities, the problem cannot be solved, explained Jasiri X.

“Violence is much more than a crime. Violence is an experience that limits or diminishes people’s ability to survive,” Jarisi X said. “Unemployment, inadequate housing, lack of access to medical care, poor public education systems, insecurity food and racism are all violence.”

The Coalition to Reimagine Public Safety is a group led by the Alliance for Police Accountability, an organization dedicated to rebuilding criminal justice specializing in community and police relations, and 1Hood Media, a collective of artists and activists who use their work to raise awareness for social justice.

The coalition cited a 2020 report from the Abolitionist Law Center that in 2019 found wide discrepancies in how blacks and whites were treated when confronted by police in Pittsburgh.

“Black people made up just 23.2% of Pittsburgh’s population, yet they made up 43.6% of those involved in traffic stops, 71.4% of all searches, 69% of those subject to searches and seizures without a warrant and 63% of all arrests. conducted by the Pittsburgh police,” reads the ALC report. “When it came to children, the disparities were even greater: Black children accounted for 83% of all warrantless searches and seizures of individuals between the ages of 11 and 18 and 100% of all warrantless searches and seizures of ‘children 10 and under’.

However, Peduto pushed back against efforts to drastically cut the police budget, saying that as the police budget increased, overall crime decreased. He has argued for a community policing model, but is against budget cuts.

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, who defeated Peduto in the Democratic primary and is likely to become mayor, has criticized the Peduto administration for certain policies such as the use of less lethal weapons, but n did not support cuts to police funding, and said he would channel funds from militarized police equipment to community policing programs.

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But with the fatal results of police encounters such as the deaths of Antown Rose II and Bruce Kelly Jr., the Coalition to Reinvent Public Safety says there are necessary and immediate alternatives to policing.

“The priority is keeping order in our communities and not investing in our communities,” says Jasiri X. “The safest communities are not the ones with the most police. The safest communities are the ones who have the most resources.

The Coalition to Reinvent Public Safety will continue a series of work sessions, town halls and input opportunities for its plan to build “safe, healthy and thriving neighborhoods” in the Pittsburgh area. The coalition says the priority is to do away with the use of police force, over-criminalization and over-incarceration.

Lauryn Nania is a reporter for the Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

Jill E. Washington