Mayor criticizes Chief Harper, calls for overhaul of police department policies
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Friday criticized his police chief's involvement in a private security business and called for an overhaul of department policies regarding employee moonlighting.
Ravenstahl said Chief Nate Harper didn't break the law, but should have known better than to partner with four department subordinates in creating Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC.
“I'm not happy,” Ravenstahl said at the opening of a Peruvian restaurant Downtown. “When you have a police chief who is in business with his subordinates, it's not acceptable.”
Harper, 59, of Stanton Heights declined comment through department spokeswoman Diane Richard.
Ravenstahl said he instructed city Solicitor Daniel Regan to seek the help of an outside expert to review and reform police policies and procedures. Although the city cannot prohibit employees from taking a second job, the mayor said, officers must focus on their primary duty to the city.
“It's time to reform that bureau,” Ravenstahl said. “Our focus will be on policies and procedures and specifically work outside of work.”
A federal investigation of Harper that became public in January centers on whether the chief was involved in awarding a contract to a shell company set up by one-time friend Art Bedway, 63, of Robinson, owner of Carnegie-based Victory Security.
Federal authorities in November accused Bedway of conspiring with former city employee Christine Kebr and unidentified others to set up Alpha Outfitters to win a contract to install computers in police vehicles.
Bedway, Kebr and Sgt. Gordon McDaniel, who oversees the police vehicle fleet, appeared before the grand jury last month.
City Council members and observers offered a mixed reaction to Ravenstahl's seeking an outside review.
“Perhaps we should have some policy to avoid the appearance of any kind of impropriety,” said Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.
Councilman Patrick Dowd, a frequent critic of the administration, said police policies aren't enforced.
“Maybe we need an outside consultant to come in and be the mayor,” Dowd said.
Ravenstahl could not be reached later for comment. He is running for re-election this year.
Michael LaPorte, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, said he believes the city has a policy on ethics, but given this situation, “maybe it should be revisited.”
“I can understand why the mayor would take the opportunity to get an unbiased opinion,” said LaPorte, a sergeant. “My feelings on consultants: You don't have to ask somebody to look at your watch to tell you what time it is. We have a plethora of law enforcement experience here which enables us to make sound, practical, experienced decisions on policies.”
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said the city's law department should be able to handle the problem without the help of an outside consultant.
“Oftentimes, you're in compliance with policy, but there are higher standards than law,” said R. Paul McCauley, professor emeritus and former chairman of Indiana University of Pennsylvania's criminology department. “There's an ethical standard. The mayor has an obligation to ensure his department heads are acting consistently within the law and ethics appropriate to that agency.”
Ravenstahl said Harper never informed him or the Law Department that he was setting up the consulting company. Ravenstahl said he discussed the situation with Harper on Thursday and the chief assured him he had done nothing wrong. The city has not disciplined Harper, and he remains on the job.
“We have a responsibility as the police chief and the mayor that we do things that are appropriate,” Ravenstahl said. “We have to be above reproach. In my mind, I would hope that he would be smarter than that.”
Paperwork filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State's Corporation Bureau on Feb. 28 listed Harper and three city officers — Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Sgt. Barry Budd and Officer Tonya Ford — along with police civilian employee Tamara Davis as organizers of Diverse Public Safety Consultants.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Thursday said the chief did nothing illegal because the company appeared dormant. The business would not be eligible for a private detective's license because those involved are active police officers.
On Friday, Zappala's spokesman Mike Manko said portions of the company's website, which was taken down, appeared to advertise services “that would violate the private detectives act, specifically those sections involving the training and placing of personnel.
Manko said the District Attorney's Office would send a cease-and-desist letter to the individuals who formed the company “advising them of the potential violations and the proper licensing procedure.”
Staff writer Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report. Bob Bauder and Margaret Harding are staff writers for Trib Total Media.