Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto focuses on use of police 'buddy days'
By Margaret Harding and Andrew Conte
Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 11:19 p.m.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Friday he's looking into how city police use “buddy day” agreements to work for one other on their days off.
“We need to find out directly from the commanders what systems are in place and what we need to do to be proactive so we don't get to the point of a federal investigation,” Peduto said.
The Tribune-Review reported Friday that police officials were trying to track down required forms for the work swaps from the zone offices after discovering that they weren't maintained at headquarters. The search was prompted by a state Right To Know Law request the Trib filed for the records to determine how frequently officers use buddy days and how much oversight the police bureau's administration has had over the practice.
“I know there's been some questions recently about whether the invoices were filed properly and whether the time was reported appropriately,” Peduto said.
Buddy days go back at least two decades. They allow officers to work for one another on their days off, at no cost to the city, with approval of their supervisors. The police contract prohibits officers from using buddy days so they can work at another job.
The bureau allowed buddy days so officers could help each other in instances where they ran out of days off and got sick or had to report for military duty, said former Pittsburgh police Chief Robert McNeilly, who is now chief in Elizabeth Township.
“That was one of the provisions, that they were not permitted buddy days to work somewhere else,” McNeilly said. “Some were for guys on military duty. Something came up, and they needed day off for a wedding. For irregular type things.”
Peduto said he plans to speak with Public Safety Director Mike Huss about the buddy days and with Zone 3 Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly, the wife of the former chief. A lieutenant in that zone, Larry Scirotto, took at least 22 buddy days from November 2012 to November 2013, according to daily assignment sheets.
The buddy days were used when Scirotto officiated college basketball games, according to statsheet.com. He worked 74 games in all during the 2012-13 season, according to the website. The records do not indicate that Scirotto worked on his days off to repay days worked for him by a sergeant who has since transferred out of Zone 3.
Scirotto has said his buddy day requests were properly approved and documented.
“I don't think this is an issue that lacks oversight,” Scirotto said. “I think it looks like an issue that needs policy clarity.”
Peduto said he is more interested in the buddy day practice as a whole than focusing on Scirotto.
“Not on the individual basis, but overall what are we doing to make sure the rules are enforced?” Peduto said. “If they're being abused or used inappropriately … I want to make sure a systematic change occurs.”
Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who previously chaired council's Public Safety Committee, said she had not heard about any issue with buddy days until she read about it in the Trib. She said the underlying problem seems to be that the city needs to pay officers more money, on a comparable level with suburban departments.
“I feel like it's just one thing after another picking the department apart,” she said. “The bottom line is that officers would not be looking for additional ways to make ends meet if we paid them well.”
Acting police Chief Regina McDonald did not return a message Friday seeking comment.
McDonald is “looking into buddy days and appropriate action will be taken,” police spokeswoman Diane Richard said. “She has to learn more about what occurred.”
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