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October 15, 2009

Pitt chief tells how the G-20 looked from behind police lines

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Pitt’s chief of police provided a behind-the-police-lines look at the G-20 events in Oakland when he reported last week to Faculty Assembly.

Chief Tim Delaney was invited to the meeting by Senate President Michael Pinsky. Among the main points in Delaney’s report were:

• How and why the Pitt police were deployed.

• The probable reasons for the arrest of some innocent Pitt students who were caught among the crowd that failed to disperse during the evenings of Sept. 24 and 25.

• What is likely to happen to Pitt students who were arrested.

• The rationale and process behind issuing the text and phone messages through the University’s Emergency Notification System (ENS) on Sept. 25 and 26.

• Why many Pitt police officers traded their customary uniforms for less familiar attire, making them less recognizable as Pitt police.

“Every city that has ever hosted the G-20 has had trouble. So we were preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best,” Delaney said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but the situation [turned out both] good and bad.”

Delaney said Pitt had 60 officers assigned to summit-related duty among the total G-20 forces of almost 4,000 police from as many as 65 departments around the country.

Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney shared his G-20 perspective at Faculty Assembly Oct.6.

Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney shared his G-20 perspective at Faculty Assembly Oct.6.

Many of those out-of-town officers were assigned to Oakland, something that virtually guaranteed there would be some communication problems, he said.

Because the G-20 Summit was a national security event, Secret Service personnel were in charge. Their initial contact with Pitt, more than a month before the event, led to a series of meetings with an eclectic mix of law enforcement officials, Delaney said.

“We started having intelligence meetings with three superintendents from Scotland Yard,” he said. “We discussed the London G-20, the Seattle episode, and we also had a captain from the D.C. police department come to Pittsburgh and give us some examples of the [Obama inauguration] and how they planned for that.”

The information Delaney collected from these sources prompted him to email the Secret Service: “No training, no equipment, no Pitt police,” because he wanted to be sure his officers were prepared for whatever they might encounter.

As a result, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided training for the Pitt police officers assigned to Summit duty.

“The training was extensive,” Delaney said. Each officer had to go through both a gas house and a smoke house to experience the effects of potential methods for controlling crowds. However, Delaney noted that officers used smoke, not gas, on protesters here.

Responding to criticism that Pitt police were not wearing their standard uniforms, Delaney said at the recommendation of Scotland Yard, which had experience with officers being set on fire during protests, Pitt officers wore the similar fire-retardant uniforms as the outside forces. “That is why a lot of us looked the same,” he said.

The Secret Service assigned some of the 15 Pitt police officers who are trained in dignitary protection to the Sept. 24 Phipps Conservatory dinner. Pitt bicycle officers were deployed on the trails in Panther Hollow because they were familiar with the territory, Delaney noted.

In preparation for the Phipps event, Pitt had to close the Frick Fine Arts Building because it fell within the security footprint.

“Everybody inside the footprint, including myself, had to have our ID pictures submitted for a background check in Washington, and we were issued an official hologram ID from the Secret Service,” Delaney explained.

The Phipps event went smoothly, he said, despite the fact that a crowd had gathered near the fence erected at the end of the Schenley Bridge. “We had a group of individuals who in my opinion were not doing anything wrong,” Delaney said.

But about 10 p.m. Delaney was notified by radio that a group at Fifth Avenue and DeSoto Street was “masking up.”

“They take handkerchiefs and they hide their face. All you see are their eyes,” Delaney said. “It’s an act of avoidance of identification and, more so, it’s an act of intimidation, because it scares some people. And it typically means something’s going to happen.”

Police believed that group consisted of self-described anarchists with no Pitt affiliation, Delaney said.

That crowd ran down to Meyran Avenue then turned at Forbes Avenue and headed toward the peaceful crowd gathered near Frick Fine Arts, he said, smashing windows along the way, including those at the Pitt police substation near the Barco Law Building.

“They destroyed everything they could. They also started two fires on Forbes Avenue,” Delaney reported. Fortunately, he said, city fire officials were prepared, partly as a lesson learned from the post-Super Bowl disturbance in Oakland, and the fires were put out very quickly.

The two crowds merged at Schenley Plaza and police officers repeatedly ordered them to disperse, Delaney said.

Delaney was jolted by an erroneous police radio report that some people had entered the William Pitt Union. “But they did not. We electronically locked all the doors in Posvar, Hillman and the William Pitt Union,” he said.

Instead, the bulk of the “anarchist” crowd circled the Cathedral of Learning lawn and ended up at Lilly Plaza, the area between Stephen Foster Memorial and the Forbes Avenue entrance to the Cathedral. There police witnessed the “anarchist” group exchanging their black clothes for Pitt T-shirts and shorts, then merging with Pitt students already on the Cathedral lawn, most of whom were not protesters, Delaney said.

“That’s when the decision was made: We’ve got to move everybody. We don’t know who’s who,” he said.

The police used smoke canisters to disperse the crowd and began arresting people, including Pitt students who either did not or were unable to disperse, he added.

Many in the crowd avoided arrest by running up the steps from the William Pitt Union driveway into Schenley Quadrangle, making it difficult for Pitt students who live in the Quad dorms to return to their rooms, Delaney said. He acknowledged that the police presence at that point was inadequate to handle the large crowd. Some of the crowd spilled onto Forbes Avenue and marched back toward Schenley Plaza, again confronting police, he said.

While the confrontation was ongoing in the shadow of the Cathedral, damage also was reported in areas bordering the campus, at businesses on Fifth Avenue, Atwood Street and Craig Street, Delaney noted.

“Thursday night, we had several students assaulted at Fifth and Craft. The [protesters] broke 19 windows, including at banks, as they went down Forbes and up to Craft. According to police reports and complaints, people that were masked were assaulting and pepper-macing students,” he said.

The protest activity on Thursday kept Delaney on the job until 3:30 a.m. Friday.

“I always look at things and say, ‘How did this happen?’ and ‘How do I make sure it doesn’t happen again?’” he said.

Delaney did that evaluation between Thursday, Sept. 24, and Friday, Sept. 25, and again between Sept. 25 and 26.

Although official G-20 events were ending at 3 p.m. on Sept. 25, Delaney knew that out-of-town protesters would not necessarily leave then.

“So what we wanted to have on Friday was no property damage, no assaults. That’s when you saw the difference in the quick action. We were not going to let them get started,” he said.

After consulting with University officials, on Sept. 25 Delaney assigned Pitt officers to Schenley Quad to create a secure zone for Pitt students seeking refuge if they were ordered by police to disperse. “That helped us because, even though we were dressed [like other police officers], it was our people watching out for our students,” he said. It also prevented outsiders from gathering there, he noted.

When Delaney got word that an unpermitted demonstration was being planned for Schenley Plaza on Friday evening, he consulted with the Student Government Board (SGB) about sending an Emergency Notification System message to help avoid trouble.

The president of SGB and others agreed that Delaney should use the message system despite the fact that the message might attract more students to the site, he said.

He followed SGB-recommended wording: “G-20 disturbances may continue tonight. Be careful. Exercise good judgment. Safety tips at”

Later that evening, Delaney was notified by a Pittsburgh police officer that a masked crowd had gathered on the Cathedral lawn.

“That’s when I sent out a second ENS message that the situation is deteriorating. That was an understatement,” he said. “We did have people who got that message and went out to see what was going on. But overall, the ENS [messages] helped, I believe.”

Property damage Friday night was minimal, but a larger number of arrests were made, mostly for failure to disperse or disorderly conduct, he noted. A smaller protest happened Saturday night, and Delaney issued a third ENS message. There were no reported arrests or property damage on Saturday, he said.

Many of the 51 Pitt students arrested on Thursday and Friday contend they just were caught up in the crowd and were unable to disperse, Delaney said.

Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert Harper told Delaney he could make recommendations about individual Pitt students charged with failure to disperse or disorderly conduct and those recommendations would be taken into account in the legal process.

Delaney has been interviewing some of the students who were arrested. As of Oct. 6, 33 Pitt students (and one faculty member, who said he was just standing at his bus stop when he was arrested), have asked to have their cases reviewed by Pitt police, he said.

“I cannot guarantee they’ll get off. What I’m doing is recommending to the DA that these individuals have special consideration,” Delaney said. However, anyone arrested for more serious crimes, such as the student who was carrying a Taser, will have to face their charges, he said.

In answer to an Assembly member’s question, Delaney said Pitt’s security cameras recorded a considerable amount of the on-campus activity and all of that footage will be turned over to the District Attorney’s office.

Delaney said having fewer than 200 arrests for an event of this magnitude is “frankly, unbelievable.”

But everything that happened in connection with the G-20 Summit should be evaluated, he said. “That’s what I’m doing now. I didn’t like what happened,” he said. “Rich Lord [in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] did a nice article and his quote was, and this was accurate: ‘It was the outsiders, on both sides.’”

Senate President Pinsky added that Chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s Sept. 29 University Update, posted at, also provides details of the G-20 events. “Importantly,” Pinsky said, “the city administration and City Council have both indicated that a review of police action during the G-20 will be undertaken and have asked that the University of Pittsburgh cooperate in that. In addition, the Citizens Review Board has invited those who have complaints to submit them to the board.”

In other Assembly business:

• Senate secretary Lisa Bernardo reported that she was following up the request by Assembly members to create a tracking system for Assembly issues. She said a spreadsheet would be available at the Nov. 4 meeting.

• Patricia Tuite reported on the Oct. 21 Senate plenary session titled “Interacting With the 21st-Century Student.” The event will be held noon-3 p.m. Oct. 21 in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.

—Peter Hart

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Filed under: Feature,Volume 42 Issue 4

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