Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday 1/07: "The Absence of Policies"

Harper Paperbacks

The City task force demanded by state financial overseers for examining the age old conundrum of extracting tribute from nonprofits has been assembled.

Rich Stanizzo, business manager for the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, who confirmed he is a member of the task force, said he believes contributions will come only through forceful means. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

I'm right with him on that.

[ICA Director Yearly] believes [nonprofits] would rather cooperate than have government challenge their tax-exempt status. If they don‘t cooperate, he said, the city can “let the enforcement people get more aggressive and go that way.” (ibid)

Which begs a huge question of why we don't start off that way -- but I suppose they've decided this needs to be a three-act play. (Hopefully not written as farce.)

Ka'Sandra Wade was murdered at her home in Pittsburgh on New Years Eve, after police responded to a 911 call and took minimal action. The police department, the Citizen's Police Review Board and the District Attorney have all declared their own concerns and investigations already, which seems uncommonly attentive of everybody and perhaps signals a foul-up.

“If it‘s a policy or procedure deficiency, if that‘s exposed, it‘ll have to be tightened up. If it‘s a performance issue, negligence, that will have to be dealt with, too,” [CPRB Director Pittinger] said.

“They left after (a man) said everything was OK and wouldn‘t let (the police) in. How does that happen?”(Trib, Bobby Kerlik)

I hope it was a procedural deficiency, that we remedy it and actually can improve. If the operational flow-chart is fine as it is but it was simply disregarded, sad to say I can think of nothing in the annals of police discipline that would suggest a satisfactory resolution.

Yet people do seem to be admirably alert. Maybe the system can handle the policing aspect for now, while the rest of us reflect on how to provide support for women who may be at risk way before situations come to a head.

The Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments is a wreck, according to Controller Chelsa Wagner; a completely understandable state of affairs seeing as how it has been Allegheny County policy for more than a decade to refuse to assess property even if it means breaking out cyanide capsules.

"A number of us on our team were visibly taken aback when [OPA] made that argument that other taxing bodies need to challenge the exemptions," Ms. Wagner said, "when I believe Allegheny County is a taxing body." (P-G, Sean D. Hamill)

Two takeaways: 1) Isn't it starting to seem like our beloved County has for some time been held together with winks, optical illusions and slime? I don't envy any new office holders trying to dredge the swamp and rectify matters.

And 2) the relationship between Controller Wagner and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald just seems to be getting ridiculously, embarrassingly, absurdly chilly. Especially considering our county has real life Republicans with which two elected Democrats might someday need to jointly contend, and also considering the dreadful scope of our perpetual financial emergencies. Is it just nervous politics? One might speculate whether Fitzgerald's previous role as tractable county Council President during the iron-fisted reign of Dan Onorato is making things awkward. But whatever it is, it's not a good look for County leadership.


  1. Without probable cause, what else could be done?

  2. Off topic, but surprised you're not on this yet Bram ...

    "Millenials in the Mayor's Seat" -

    The article includes long passages about Ravenstahl. Did you know that he "organized" the Pittsburgh Promise? And here's a good quote:

    “I underestimated the lens that I was under,” [Ravenstahl] says. “I’ve learned a lot, and I do approach things a lot differently than I did in the beginning.”

    Yeah, like he used to tell people where he lives, now, not so much. And he let's Joanna do the talking now.

  3. Anon 9:34 - I'm not an expert on probable cause or anything else. I would imagine if that 911 transcript reads, "Help! A man here at my house is threatening me with deadly violence, who has hurt me before!" that should be probable cause to push past whatever man answers the door and see what is going on. If the call was more vague or unclear than that, I don't know. An extended police display on the porch / stoop of taking the mere possibility of domestic abuse deadly seriously even in the absence of "probable cause" might have been indicated, if such a display indeed did not occur.

  4. Anon 9:36 - I did not catch that article, and thank you. I'll give it a fuller treatment later this week. It is conventional wisdom that the Pittsburgh Promise was already baking in the oven upon Mayor Ravenstahl's ascension, and his chief contribution to it was to issue the order, "Now! Do it now! We'll iron out the details later!" Which may indeed have been the critical piece. I take the "I approach things a lot differently now" quote as a gracious compliment.

  5. Ka'Sandra was a friend. We worked together at Action United from March of 2012 until near the end of September. Ka'Sandra was as solid as they come. She was calm, honest, kind, extremely hard working and responsible. She had lived in poverty and had put herself through school while working - she had just graduated from college.

    She was a great mother. She laughed with her kid, played with him, was warm, affectionate, responsible, accepting, and she set the limits, made sure he did his homework, that he was safe, well-fed, well-behaved, well-sheltered.

    I was shocked by the report that the police left without trying to talk to the woman who placed the call - but part of me was also not surprised based on past experience.

    As a war veteran in Iraq and having lived in poverty in some really poor and minority neighborhoods around the country, I've seen such indifference and/or carelessness demonstrated by both men and women charged with deadly force to keep the peace in communities that are perceived through the lenses of racism, cultural prejudice and/or xenophobia.

    I also have seen the truly substantive difference that training, systemic standards, and the enforcement of such policy expectations have made in such situations, not to mention the practice of basic empathy, which has been effectively included as part of regular police training in many departments around the country, especially as regards responding to domestic abuse calls. I have witnessed truly exemplary, thoughtful, responsibly empathetic responses by police during domestic abuse calls that set the standard for all of us.

    Yes, I would like to focus on what can be changed in the future as regards such police training, on rigorous upholding of due diligence in responding to such 911 calls, on equitable response no matter what the neighborhood, and on public transparency and accountability for such flagrant breakdowns in the system.

    And, for the larger community, I would like to emphasize the need to help create practically supportive, non-judgmental networks that help women in such situations establish their independence, especially those who are supporting children of their abusers, when it is especially hard to make the break.

  6. Also, police (and soldiers) who are sent to neighborhoods that are perceived to be both poor and dangerous are often under far greater stress, and often tend to make poorer judgment calls, especially if inexperienced.

    Yes, there's a long history and pattern of police behavior in Pittsburgh that warrants the possibility, but I'm not practicing due diligence or basic fairness to so immediately and positively suggest racism/prejudice as the primary motivating force for the negligence in this case. We do need to hear more of the story before assessing, as well as the possible areas to focus on for constructive change.

  7. I saw "Dopeduto" standing with the stalker Adrienne Young! He just don't learn does he?!