Pittsburgh Plainclothes Officers Seize Guns, Cause Controversy


Pittsburgh’s patrol officers in plainclothes make swift arrests, snatching guns at a rate their supervisors consider prolific, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Community leaders say the mystery around the aggressive tactic creates a distrust of police, heightened in recent weeks by accusations that three undercover officers beat a teen during his arrest. Law enforcement sources say the unmarked rovers — known as “99” cars — are among the most valuable police tools for ridding trouble spots of guns, drugs, and crime. “There would almost be no order without them,” Commander Catherine McNeilly said. “It would be like the Wild West.”

City officers pulled 1,121 guns off the street last year. A more telling figure is the number of arrests for illegally concealing guns: the force made 659 arrests in 2009. Three officers were suspended with pay last week while the city investigates a teenager’s claim that they beat him. The trio made nearly 20 percent of the city’s illegal firearms arrests. Undercover officers must be vigilant in their search for telltale signs that a person is concealing a weapon. They are often aggressive, and their techniques make them prone to lawsuits and complaints of excessive force. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked the Office of Municipal Investigations to wrap up a probe into the case by March.

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