Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
From left: Mayor Bill Peduto, Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge, Deborah Walker
Two years ago, when Mayor Bill Peduto took office, he moved the Office of Municipal Investigations out of the Department of Public Safety and put it under the purview of the city's law department. Today, Pittsburgh was given an update on the progress the mayor's office has seen as a result of that change.
"We moved OMI under the law department so that it would become an independent organization that would still have oversight under the department of law," said Peduto. "What we've seen over these past few years of working together with OMI, our law department and our police bureau has been rather significant."
According to the law department, lawsuits filed against the City of Pittsburgh have decreased by 50 percent in the last two years. Both City Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge and OMI Director Deborah Walker attribute the decrease in lawsuits and complaints to the increased training being done in all city departments.
The total number of complaints filed against police officers also decreased over the last two years and is down by 43 percent. This is a drop from 337 in 2013 to 191 last year. The total number of complaints against police officers are down across the board in every category including conduct toward the public, conduct unbecoming an employee, neglect of duty and use of force.
"Starting with the police department, [the decrease] is due to the leadership of Police Chief Cameron McLay holding officers responsible for their conduct. Discipline plays a role in that. And discipline can be anywhere from counseling to termination and there's a lot between counseling and termination. Often times the public will think the only thing to remedy a complaint would be termination. But I've seen a decrease in officers violating policies because of the early intervention of the chief of police and his command staff."
Despite the decrease in complaints in many areas, complaints did increase among non-officers, including employees in the Department of Public Works, where complaints went from five to 13. Peduto attributed the increase to whistleblowers, while Walker and Sanchez-Ridge said it's due to the openness of OMI since it was restructured.
"People are now coming to OMI and using our department as an investigative branch of city government. So now they know there is someone who will listen to them and take the appropriate action," said Walker. "We've been very forthcoming in contacting departments and letting them know if they feel there is misconduct in their office, they can come to us, and we will do a thorough and fair investigation."