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Pittsburgh police labor official: Staffing recommendations went unheeded

By Margaret Harding and Bob Bauder
Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Pittsburgh's state-appointed financial overseers commissioned a study of police staffing eight years ago and mentioned its recommendations in a 2009 recovery plan but neither the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority nor the mayor's office followed up, a police labor official said Thursday.

The 2005 study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, commissioned by the ICA, recommended increasing the number of Pittsburgh police supervisors on the street and putting more civilians to work in the police bureau, said Officer Bob Swartzwelder of the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Management Committee.

“You have to have the proper supervision,” Swartzwelder said. “They didn't enforce this.”

ICA Executive Director Henry Sciortino said the body can't tell the city how to run its police force.

“We rely heavily on our partnership with the city to focus on the execution of good police tactics and strategies and the things that surround law enforcement,” Sciortino said.

The city mentioned the study and its emphasis on putting civilians into administrative jobs to free up officers in the amended recovery plan. But it's unclear whether the city carried out the recommendations.

Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the office would not comment.

Deputy Police Chief Paul Donaldson refused to answer questions about staffing ratios and moving civilians into police administrative roles.

The issue surfaced in City Council chambers this week when Councilman Patrick Dowd of Highland Park said on-street supervisors direct shift operations and play a critical role in teaching young officers how to be good cops.

Two recent high-profile incidents involving Pittsburgh police led to internal investigations. Two officers did not enter a woman's home when she called 911 for help on Dec. 31; officers found her dead in the home the next day. On Jan. 13, five off-duty officers opened fire on a motorist fleeing Homestead along busy East Carson Street in the South Side as the bars emptied.

Dowd said the city should hire more officers and sergeants or reorganize so that sergeants move from desk jobs into the field.

“They're officers with experience and the first-line supervisors, so they're really sort of watching the team and what's going on during a shift,” Dowd said. “They really help (teach) how to do the business of policing properly. They install all the values of good policing.”

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, council's public safety committee chair, accused Dowd of playing politics by raising the issue during an election year.

The FOP supports Dowd's assertion that the department needs changes, Swartzwelder said.

“In order to maintain fiscal responsibility, the FOP endorses police officers doing police work and civilians doing administrative work,” Swartzwelder said.

Dowd cited Zone 5 in the East End, where most violent crime in the city occurs, as a particular area needing more supervision. Dowd's District 7 includes East End neighborhoods that Zone 5 officers patrol.

The city has seven sergeants in Zone 5 and Zone 2. Ravenstahl decides when to make promotions.

“We've waited for months and months and months for there to be an additional eighth sergeant back in Zone 5,” Dowd said. “I think there should be more than eight, but eight is better than seven. It's really on the mayor. Do you want seven sergeants or eight? The mayor hasn't taken a stand on that.”

Margaret Harding and Bob Bauder are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Harding can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com. Bauder can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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