By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Police have been under some intense criticism as of late for their recent arrest of a protest marshal using an unmarked van and their use of pepper spray and other less-lethal weapons on protesters last week in Mellon Park. The city did announce some staff reassignments after this incident, but no discipline was announced.
Some members of Pittsburgh City Council have called out these events and signaled that council needs to take action in the realm of police reform. On Tuesday, City Council member Corey O’Connor, a Squirrel Hill Democrat, introduced legislation that he hopes will re-establish a level of accountability of the police within city government.
O’Connor’s bill would ban Pittsburgh’s Public Safety Department, which oversees the police, from using facial recognition software or Predictive Policing Technology, which the ordinance defines as “programs, devices, hardware, or software used to predict information or trends on crime or criminality that has or has yet to occur.”
Pittsburgh Public Safety policy already bans the city from acquiring and using facial recognition software, though PublicSource reported that the department did recently use Jnet, the state’s facial recognition software, on at least one occasion. Also, in June, the city suspended its predictive policing program after concerns about racial bias.
Studies have shown that police use of facial recognition and predictive policing have disproportionately targeted people of color. O’Connor notes how other cities around the country have already banned the uses of these technologies, such as Sommerville, Mass., as well as the cities of San Francisco, and Oakland, Calif.
“We have seen how this hurts people of color and people in low-income areas,” says O’Connor of facial recognition and predictive policing technology. He also tweeted last week that more police-reform legislation is likely to come.
Now is the time to listen and act. We need to take this opportunity to build a more inclusive democracy that facilitates engagement at the front end. What we saw over the weekend and what we saw last night in the East End was unacceptable.
— Corey O'Connor (@CoreyOConnorPGH) August 20, 2020