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Mon Valley police departments will soon need DA approval to file 40 felonies

September 23, 2018

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. holds a meeting in McKeesport Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, with police chiefs from Mon Valley municipalities to discuss a McKeesport warrant office opening in October.

Officers in 25 Mon Valley police departments will soon be required to receive approval from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office before charging people with 40 felony charges.

The change will go in to effect in October when the DA’s office opens a warrant office in McKeesport in the old Daily News building, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said.

Currently, all officers in the county need approval from the DA’s office before charging people with major felonies like homicide. But Pittsburgh officers need DA approval for those and about 40 other smaller felonies, said Mike Manko, Zappala’s spokesman.

After the new warrant office opens, officers in the Mon Valley municipalities will also be required to get DA approval to file 40 other felonies, such as aggravated assault, felony sex assault and child abuse, Manko said.

“This is to limit the discretion of what an officer can do without the consent of my office to charge people with a crime,” Zappala said. “When you charge a person with a crime, you change their life.”

Many officers from smaller municipalities work part-time.

Manko added: “The big difference once the warrant office begins operating is that those 30 departments will not be able to file most cases without our approval.”

The office plans to open a warrant office in Monroeville next year, which will require the officers of the east suburbs to get DA approval before filing the same 40 felony charges, Zappala said.

The warrant office in Downtown Pittsburgh, currently the only one in the county, opened about a year ago, Zappala said.

The new McKeesport office will also offer police training in a room that can hold 25 people, Zappala said. The office does not yet know what type of training the municipalities will need in the new office, but it will all be classroom-based training, Manko said.

“What I told these guys is ‘We’re gonna be down there,’” Zappala said. “We have talented people willing to help you develop like we do the lawyers. I think between training and use of technology, we’re going to get a better police officer. We know we have some good officers there right now.”

Zappala gave copies of about a dozen police policies to police chiefs during a meeting Saturday in McKeesport. He recommends they adopt them. He said he’d like to review the departments’ policies on use of force, search and seizure, custodial interrogations and pursuits.

“Those are the minimum areas I think you have to have policies and procedures,” Zappala said Tuesday. “I am comfortable that the overwhelming majority of the county police departments do in fact have those procedures in place, and they train on them. Hopefully through the warrant office and otherwise and through the diligence of the Chiefs of Police Association, if there are deficiencies, they’ll address it.”

Zappala said he discovered East Pittsburgh police did not have any written policies after part-time East Pittsburgh officer Michael Rosfeld shot and killed unarmed teen Antwon Rose as he ran from a felony traffic stop June 19. The tiny borough had policies, but “they might not have been updated the way they should have been,” Mayor Louis Payne said last month.

The incident raised questions about whether the county’s small police departments have updated polices and train their part-time officers properly.

The changes and new offices were in the works prior to the Rose shooting, Zappala said.

“I think (the shooting) did stimulate a lot more discussions between my office and the police community about where we should be heading and put more technology in play,” Zappala said.

The office also plans to place more cameras in the Mon Valley, especially Clairton, Glassport, McKeesport, West Mifflin and Duquesne.

Zappala also wants to see more Mon Valley officers using body and dash cameras and gain access to more technology, he said.

The office left three portable fingerprint readers with county police, and plans to place three in the McKeesport office for officers to test out, Zappala said.

The 25 Mon Valley police departments are:

• Braddock

• Braddock Hills

• Clairton

• Duquesne

• East Pittsburgh

• East McKeesport

• Elizabeth Borough

• Elizabeth Township

• Forward Township

• Homestead

• Liberty Borough

• Lincoln

• McKeesport

• Munhall

• North Braddock

• North Versailles

• Picairn

• Port Vue

• Rankin

• South Versailles

• Turtle Creek

• Versailles

• West Homestead

• Whitaker• White OakThe story has been updated with the correct number of departments and the names of those departments.

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