Pittsburgh councilman releases police job records; groups seek input on new chief

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 1:15 p.m.

Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd on Wednesday made public invoices listing hundreds of payments to police by businesses employing off-duty officers for security.

Dowd of Highland Park said he posted them online so that council members and city residents would know the extent of moonlighting, or secondary details, within the police bureau. The invoices cover 2009 to 2012.

For 2012, he estimated, officers worked 200,000 hours in off-duty jobs, compared to 900,000 hours on-duty.

“We as a council and as a community need to begin having a conversation about this,” Dowd said. “Do we want police officers to spend 200,000 (hours) a year at bars and restaurants?”

Not all council members want to meddle with the police bureau's operation, despite a federal investigation connected to the off-duty payments.

“I think it's very dangerous to have people with no formal training in law enforcement to micromanage the workings of a police department,” said Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze.

An FBI investigation appears to focus on money that businesses paid to employ off-duty officers. The city is trying to determine if some of the money went to unauthorized accounts at the police credit union. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl cited the investigation in ousting Chief Nate Harper last week.

In 2012, restaurants, bars, construction companies, hotels, shopping malls and event organizers, including the Three Rivers Regatta, paid a combined $6.1 million to police officers working off-duty shifts.

Officers generally make about $30 an hour during off-duty assignments, though the amount varies.

In addition, the city last year collected $792,189 from a $3.85-an-hour administrative fee applied to each off-duty shift. That money was intended to cover litigation and workers compensation expenses if someone sues an off-duty officer or an officer is injured while moonlighting.

Questions have arisen about whether a portion of that administrative fee went to Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union accounts that were linked to debit cards issued in the names of Ravenstahl's three police bodyguards and at least two top police officials.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith of Westwood introduced legislation on Tuesday that would create a fund specifically for money paid to officers for off-duty work and the administrative fee. She plans to propose a bill next week that would create minimum staffing levels for each police station and a timing mechanism for hiring recruits to maintain levels.

“We have to avoid any appearances of impropriety and restore confidence in our police bureau,” she said. “Given the situation, everything has to be discussed.”

Community groups and several council members gathered in the City-County Building, Downtown, to urge Ravenstahl and council to weigh concerns about racial diversity in the police bureau and allegations of corruption when the mayor hires a chief. Council must confirm Ravenstahl's pick.

Aletheia Henry, Ravenstahl's campaign manager, said he wasn't at a Brookline candidates event Tuesday because his mother was ill. He also did not show at a North Side candidates night on Wednesday. A person speaking on his behalf said the mayor couldn't attend due to family issues.

Ravenstahl has said acting Chief Regina McDonald will serve during a search for Harper's replacement. He said he wants to hire someone with no connection to the city or department because of turmoil from the federal investigation.

“I will not vote for anyone who is a current or past member of the Pittsburgh police,” Burgess said. “I think we need a new set of eyes and a national expert in policing who can lead us in the future.”

Tim Stevens, who chairs the Black Political Empowerment Project, said the city needs a chief who is willing to hire more minority and female officers and work to improve relations between the department and residents, particularly those in black neighborhoods. He said the next chief must adhere to unbiased policing.

“We have an opportunity to move forward and create a new era in police and community relations that we've never seen before,” Stevens said.

Staff writer Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report. Bob Bauder and Jeremy Boren are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Boren can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com. Bauder can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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