Pittsburgh police rules for drinking while undercover revealed at meeting

A high-ranking Pittsburgh police official revealed for the first time publicly Tuesday the department’s policy on alcohol consumption for on-duty undercover officers.

Assistant Chief Lavonnie Bickerstaff and police Chief Scott Schubert appeared before the Citizen Police Review Board to discuss remedial actions the department took after undercover detectives brawled with members of the Pagans motorcycle club at Kopy’s Bar on the South Side in October 2018.

Assistant Chief Bickerstaff, in explaining to the CPRB policy changes since the brawl, said undercover officers are only allowed to consume two drinks within a four-hour span if it is necessary to keep their cover. The officers also are not allowed to drive within that time span.

The rule was implemented last year, the Post-Gazette reported in August 2019, but its details were not disclosed until the meeting Tuesday night.

In addition to disclosing the policy, Assistant Chief Bickerstaff said the department has re-evaluated its strategic plans and operational procedures in an attempt to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Assistant Chief Bickerstaff also said alcohol testing of undercover officers before or after an operation is being considered.

The incident at Kopy’s, during which four undercover detectives fought with members of the Pagans club during a nuisance bar operation, was taped by the bar’s security camera.

The footage shows the undercover detectives — David Honick, Brian Burgunder, David Lincoln and Brian Martin — drinking for several hours before the confrontation with the motorcycle club members, who also were drinking at the bar.

Four Pagans members were arrested after the fight, but the charges against them were later dropped. All four have since sued the city, alleging that the detectives used excessive force against them.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office announced that it would not pursue charges against the detectives in February 2019.

The CPRB meeting was held just a week before voters in Pittsburgh have the chance to potentially strengthen the investigating agency.

There is a ballot question Nov. 3 that asks voters whether they want to expand “the powers of the Independent Citizen Police Review Board to allow the Board to require police officers to participate in investigations, [conduct] performance audits of the Police Bureau and [prevent] the removal of Board members except for just cause and with City Council approval.”

City Councilman Ricky Burgess proposed the measure, and in July council unanimously approved the decision to include it on the ballot.

The seven-member independent board, appointed by the mayor and council, is currently empowered by the city’s Home Rule Charter to investigate “selected” citizen complaints alleging police misconduct; establish a mediation process; provide recommendations to the mayor and police chief regarding disciplinary policies and police conduct; and hold public hearings and subpoena witnesses.

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Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette