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Pittsburgh councilman critical of police staffing

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Allowing police officers to work desk jobs instead of patrolling streets has cost Pittsburgh $16 million over eight years and presents a risk to public safety, a city councilman and Fraternal Order of Police representatives said Wednesday.

City Councilman Patrick Dowd said the Zone 5 police station ­— which patrols crime-ridden East End neighborhoods — lacks enough sergeants to supervise inexperienced officers. He said the city is underutilizing patrol sergeants, who direct officers in life-or-death situations.

“You've got cops sitting behind desks,” said Robert Swartzwelder, a police officer and member of the FOP's labor-management committee. “What does that mean? That means you don't have them out in the street where you need them.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office referred questions to the police bureau. Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said Dowd's assertions are inaccurate, and that the bureau would hire another sergeant in Zone 5 with the next promotions.

The FOP, representing about 850 city police officers, points to a report that suggests the city would save money by putting civilian employees in desk jobs staffed by police officers and supervisors.

Had the city followed recommendations in a 2005 International Association of Chiefs of Police study commissioned by Pittsburgh's state-appointed financial overseers, it would have saved at least $16 million, Swartzwelder said.

Dowd questioned staffing levels during a City Council discussion of legislation introduced by Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze that aims to improve police policy in domestic violence calls. The bill was prompted by the recent killing of Ka'Sandra Wade, 33, of Larimer. Police were dispatched to Wade's home for a report of unknown trouble, but left without speaking to her after her boyfriend, Anthony Brown, told them nothing was amiss. Police said Brown fatally shot Wade then committed suicide.

Council voted to delay Burgess' bill until a committee proposed by Ravenstahl consisting of city officials and domestic violence experts can refine it.

Burgess, who represents the neighborhoods included in Zone 5, declined comment on Dowd's claims that officers in the city's six police stations desperately need more supervision in dire situations, particularly in Zone 5, which responded to Wade's 911 call.

The station has a number of inexperienced officers, Dowd said, because those with more seniority typically transfer to safer areas when they can.

“We need more sergeants (citywide). We need more officers, and in Zone 5 they definitely need more sergeants and officers,” Dowd said.

The Chiefs of Police study supports that.

“We find a dramatic staffing shortfall in Operations, in field patrol,” it said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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