"If I'm a director or a chief, and someone offered more money for more training, I'd say, 'I'll take it,'" says Pittsburgh Council President Gene Ricciardi. That's not exactly what happened on May 12, though, when council held a summit on police use-of-force training.
Ricciardi wasn't offering more money, which the city doesn't have. He was just pushing a resolution to have the Citizens Police Review Board gather data on how other urban departments train their cops. The board normally hears allegations of police abuse, and is often at odds with Police Chief Robert McNeilly.
Rather than say, "I'll take it," police brass bristled at the prospect of a study. "We're confident that the training we provide is more than adequate," Deputy Chief William Mullen told council. He and training academy Commander Paul Donaldson passed out 16 pages of documentation showing that new recruits get 33 percent more training than the state mandates, and the department goes well beyond state minimums in providing ongoing training.
The documentation didn't sway Ricciardi. "I was taken aback," he says, by the infrequency of use-of-force and takedown refresher training, he said. Police documentation showed the last one-day use-of-force seminar was conducted in 2002, and the assembled badges conceded that some officers probably hadn't been retrained in restraint since 2000.
"Even though those [Pittsburgh] officers haven't received takedown training in the last four years, most departments don't provide that training at all," McNeilly told council. In the end, council tentatively approved Ricciardi's call for a review board study, and McNeilly eventually claimed he welcomed it.
Ricciardi, who seems certain to run for mayor in 2005, says that regardless of the board's findings he's likely to push for more training. "In the first year, I'd like to see it doubled, then in the second year tripled, and then quadrupled," he says. That's subject to the city's budget situation, he notes.
City police have been involved in seven deadly-force incidents since 1998. In two, Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht recommended criminal prosecutions, and some have resulted in civil lawsuits. Ricciardi says he thought about the possibility that a report critical of police training might become evidence for the plaintiffs in such suits, but decided there were more important considerations. "When you're talking about the safety of officers, the safety of innocent bystanders, and even the safety of [criminal] actors," he says, "it just needs to be brought out. ... This is just something of such importance that we have to go forward."