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The Problem with Suburban Police

The East Pittsburgh police department that is responsible for killing the unarmed teenager Antwon Rose, Jr. is one of more than a hundred police departments across metro Pittsburgh—and that’s a problem.
Protestors rally in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse on Thursday.
Protestors rally in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse on Thursday. Keith Srakocic/AP

The police shooting and killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose, Jr. in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, brings back into focus the problem of policing in the suburbs of large cities—a troubling phenom that was magnified when 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in the small municipality of Ferguson outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Like Brown, Rose Jr. was unarmed when he was shot and killed by East Pittsburgh police. Both were African Americans. Like the Ferguson-St. Louis proximity, East Pittsburgh is a small borough that sits just a few miles on the outskirts of the city of Pittsburgh. The entire borough takes up less than a square mile, and had a population of just over 2,000 as of the 2000 Census. Nevertheless, it has its own mayor, city council, and police department—a staff of nine, including its chief of police, according to the East Pittsburgh website.  

The police officer who killed Rose, Michael Rosefeld, had just been sworn in to the East Pittsburgh force less than two hours before he and another police officer pulled over a car that Rose was riding in. The car was suspected in a shooting that had occurred minutes before less than a mile away in the neighboring small municipality of North Braddock (population 4,740)—not to be confused with the neighboring small municipality of Braddock (population 2,118), both of which also have their own tiny police departments. In fact, most of the 130 boroughs, towns, and small cities that make up Allegheny County have their own police departments, many with staffs of fewer than a dozen people.