UPMC may form its own police force

| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Western Pennsylvania's largest health system might spend millions to form its own police department as part of a security overhaul in the aftermath of two frightening crimes at its facilities this year, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said.

UPMC officials made the proposal to their board of directors on Wednesday, though no details were immediately available.

The goal is “to ensure the safety of our patients and employees,” said Paul Wood, spokesman for UPMC, the region's largest employer.

He declined to discuss specifics but said the health system is conducting a “thorough review of all security measures,” including protocols at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland.

The proposal was announced six months after John Shick, 30, entered the lobby of Western Psych and opened fire, killing one and wounding five. A University of Pittsburgh police officer shot and killed him to end the attack.

Last month, police charged Breona Moore, 19, in the abduction of a 3-day-old baby from the maternity ward in Magee-Womens Hospital, a UPMC facility also in Oakland. Police caught Moore in a Downtown building and recovered the child.

“I foresee some very meaningful improvements,” said Zappala, who pushed for scrutiny of UPMC's security.

The security review is under the direction of Robert Cindrich, senior adviser to UPMC President Jeffrey Romoff. Cindrich, a former federal judge, assembled a team for the review, though it does not include Zappala, Wood said.

If UPMC forms a police department, it does not need clearance from the state Department of Health, said Christine Cronkright, the department's director of communications.

Bryan Warren, president of the International Association for Health Care Security & Safety, a national trade group based in Chicago, said hospitals that employ dedicated police departments can be safer than those that depend on police departments near the facilities.

In addition to Pittsburgh police and other nearby municipal departments, Pitt, Carlow University and Carnegie Mellon University have police departments near UPMC facilities.

“With many hospital (police) departments there can be jurisdictional limitations, but overall they can provide a benefit,” Warren said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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