South Hills to combine investigative forces

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Police departments in the South Hills are making arrangements to share investigators and resources on cases that might be too big for one agency to handle but too small to call in Allegheny County or State Police investigators.

The Cooperative Investigative Team being arranged through the South Hills Area Council of Governments will allow 21 participating police agencies to formally share officers, investigators or equipment on cases that could cross local borders, such as drug crimes or strings of burglaries, said Scott police Chief James Secreet, executive director of the team.

“We'll have a lot of knowledge, a lot of skills when we have 400 officers in 21 communities to choose from,” he said.

When local chiefs decide they need help on a case, they will contact the team through Secreet.

Coordinators in each department who are familiar with each local officer's skills and training will recommend the best people for that investigation's needs, including “team leaders” the departments are in the process of identifying, Secreet said.

The Mt. Lebanon Police Department, for example, added a dedicated investigator for drug crimes, who would be a prime candidate for working with other departments, said Deputy Chief Aaron Lauth.

Secreet used the example of a hypothetical house that neighbors suspect is hosting drug activity, which would not be sufficient to bring in a larger agency or task force but might be too difficult for a small police department to investigate by itself.

“On surveillance, people might recognize local officers,” Secreet said. “So we can pull unfamiliar officers and vehicles from other communities.”

The CIT officers could work together on surveillance, undercover work or developing informants to investigate the alleged drug activity, either to make arrests themselves or develop enough cause to call in reinforcements. Teams can share equipment between departments and may collectively purchase equipment or pay for additional training that would be prohibitively expensive for some departments on their own, Secreet said.

The setup will be different from the SHACOG participants' Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), a local equivalent to a SWAT unit, since the participating officers constantly will be changing, he said. On the CERT team, the same group of officers train and work together all the time.

Lou Gorski, executive director of SHACOG, said the arrangement shouldn't cost the departments anything extra in overtime since officers cooperating on investigations will be doing so during the course of their regular duties.

“It's simply an extension of mutual aid, not a new detective division,” he said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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