The Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s 1997 consent decree mandating federal oversight over departmental procedure may be lifted as soon as this summer. The city is currently negotiating a release from the decree, arguing that problems of excessive force, false arrests, and internal affairs corruption have been corrected. Pittsburgh agreed to the consent decree in April of 1997 in order to avoid a federal take-over of the Police Bureau. In the years prior to the consent decree, the city had been plagued by high-turnover, having had 5 police chiefs in 10 years, and had no institutionalized training or standard reporting policies, resulting in procedures that varied from station to station. As part of its consent decree, the city has developed the now nationally recognized Performance Assessment and Review System, which allows supervisors to easily access an officer’s complete employment history, and to be informed any time something abnormal occurs. Another condition was the creation of a Citizen Police Review Board.
Some civil rights groups have expressed opposition to a lifting of the consent decree. Their fears that reforms will be eroded if federal oversight is ended are well founded. The Pittsburgh Police Bureau came under another consent decree in 1975, which mandated increased hiring of women and African-Americans. At the time the court order was imposed, women comprised only 1% of the department. By 1990, the department had one of the highest representations of women police officers in the country at 27.2%. However, when the court order was lifted in 1991, the number of women hired dropped dramatically, from an average of over 40% to a current 8.5% of all new hires. As of 2001, the percentage of women serving as police officers had dropped to 22%. The expiration of consent decrees is thought to be a major contributor to the current decline in the percentage of women in policing nationwide.