ShareThis Page

Opinions lukewarm on Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg police merger

| Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Wilkinsburg leader said on Tuesday that a proposed police merger with Pittsburgh faces "an uphill battle" because the city would replace borough officers.

"This is, I think, our one opportunity for a large-scale improvement," said Jason Cohn, president of borough council, who has discussed the merger with Pittsburgh officials. "Unfortunately, it's not as attractive because we'd be losing our current officers, and that's a pretty bitter pill for our community and the officers to swallow."

Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper declined to comment through spokeswoman Diane Richard, saying the proposal is in the early stages. Wilkinsburg posted the city's proposal on the borough website yesterday with a message stating the posting was to "clear the air for residents about what is actually being proposed, which is seven more officers than we currently have, stationed in the Borough Building 24/7."

The proposal puts 29 officers in Wilkinsburg but does not say whether any would come from the borough's complement of 22 or 23 officers. Joanna Doven, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, could not say whether the city would replace the officers.

"We're open to shared service agreements that save taxpayer dollars," said Doven, who called the talks preliminary. "We were approached by Wilkinsburg, and in order for this kind of thing to work, both parties have to be for it."

Cohn said merger talks began last year, months after the city began providing fire services for the neighboring borough of 17,000 people.

Wilkinsburg council members reviewed the proposal but do not plan to vote on it anytime soon, Cohn said.

"Two things have to be present -- it has to save lives and make people safer, and it has to have a good amount of backing from residents," Cohn said. "If we don't have both those things, we're not going to do it."

Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia Coleman -- a former Pittsburgh detective -- said she hasn't been involved in merger discussions and declined comment.

Residents spoke out against the proposal at meetings this month, and a Facebook page called "Support Wilkinsburg Police Department" has 227 fans. The site urges people to voice their concerns to borough officials.

"You have a lot of good guys down there who work very hard," said Carl Bailey, principal officer of the Teamsters Local 205 that represents Wilkinsburg officers. "It's far from a bedroom community. All the residents know if they get rid of their police, (crime is) only going to get worse."

In the fire merger, the city hired Wilkinsburg firefighters, who belong to the same union as city firefighters.

Merging police would be more complicated, in part because the departments have different union representation. City officers belong to the Fraternal Order of Police.

The Wilkinsburg police contract expired this year, and contract negotiations are under way.

"It looks to me to be a very difficult plan to implement," Cohn said.

The borough will pay the city $7.6 million for fire protection during the life of a contract that runs through 2015. Pittsburgh estimated the cost for police services to be about $3.4 million in 2012, according to the proposal. The borough budgeted $3.2 million for its police department last year. Borough manager Marla Marcinko and Mayor John Thompson did not return messages.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.