In 1997, 35,000 Pittsburgh residents voted “yes” in a referendum to create the Citizen Police Review Board, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The people spoke loudly after overcoming opposition to the board’s formation from the police union and several City Council members. The board works in obscurity. Its meetings are not televised on the city’s cable channel. Often, only one citizen appears to speak–a man who says his his sister was a victim of police brutality.
When the board was born, the Pittsburgh Police Bureau was under a federal consent decree after the U.S. Justice Department alleged a pattern and practice of police misconduct. The consent decree has been lifted. The review board’s executive director, Elizabeth Pittinger, believes tensions between police and the public have lessened. She sees the board still fulfilling a vital role: truly independent oversight of the police. She described the board as a “safeguard.” “We’re one of the forums that exist to take the shroud of mystery away from policing, from police tactics, from police conduct,” she said. A consistent criticisms of the board has been that it is powerless. With a 2005 budget of $441,000, the board employs eight people at its Uptown offices. Through 2004, they have taken 4,081 complaints about police behavior in 31 categories.