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Don't Just Kill the Messenger, Ignore the News

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When new city police chief Dom Costa sat down for a public "job interview" with city council last week prior to his expedited appointment, the 20-minute lovefest brought to mind another sort of "job."

Councilor after councilor declared how much they supported Costa and looked forward to working with him. Some, including Jim Motznik, even pointed out how supportive the community was, as evidenced by how few members had attended the hearing to speak against Costa's appointment, despite all the "media hype."

In fact, it was such "hype" that got most of council's attention: the Jan. 12 Post-Gazette article revealing an internal police report criticizing Costa's and others' handling of a 2002 standoff in Homewood. Costa and another officer were shot, and Costa was recommended for suspension. Instead, he went on disability and left the department.

Councilor Bill Peduto said turning over such files was no different than the 2003 leaking of a CIA agent's identity, allegedly by vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby. And -- just as with Libby -- officials seemed more interested in investigating journalists. While councilors showed little interest in learning whether Costa would avoid command mistakes in the future, they did ask city solicitor Susan Malie to conduct an investigation into the document leak. Police department spokeswoman Tammy Ewin said the department would follow the lead of the solicitor in any investigation.

"When we allow a city employee's personnel records to be released, we're empowering the next person to release their medical records," Peduto speculated.

Councilor Twanda Carlisle said a safer system of records storage was needed, such as "taking them out of the City of Pittsburgh realm."

As an out-of-town cavern or underground vault was presumably being sought, Costa assured council that the standoff was "in the past. I'm looking forward to the future."

Lack of public outrage at the Costa-palooza doesn't necessarily mean an endorsement for the new chief, says Celeste Taylor, community activist and member of the Black Political Empowerment Project.

 "Nobody's here because everybody knew this was a done deal," said Taylor. "I am concerned that city council sped up this process and I'm concerned that they spent so much time in there blaming the media for releasing information that the public has a right to know."

Taylor says she and the rest of the community will assuredly be watching the new chief's every move.

"I am sincerely concerned about the community's relationship with the police department," she says. "I hope Mr. Costa is a good chief of police, but we have every right to be concerned about the information that we know about Mr. Costa. I saw that standoff unfold and I was horrified by the way it was handled."

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