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Dormont council ready to reach out to police

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:12 a.m.
Sgt. Michael Bisignani, a 12-year veteran of the Dormont Police Department, is expected to become its new police chief. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

With turmoil over who controls the Dormont Police Department no longer a factor, borough council intends to appoint a chief on Monday.

“I don't know if I would've gone for the chief's job a couple years ago,” said Sgt. Michael Bisignani, 37, who expects to get the job.

Dormont officials spent much of 2011 battling over who could give orders to the 12-member department and control its operations. Then-manager Gino Rizza, backed by a council majority, was pitted against Mayor Tom Lloyd, who had the support of police Chief Phil Ross.

Ross bore the brunt of the argument. He was demoted to sergeant and then patrolman. Other sergeants were promoted to acting chief and an administrative chief was hired and quit before the arguments — which included lawsuits over demotions — ended when a council majority took over in 2012.

Rizza resigned, and Ross was reinstated. He is expected to retire on March 3 but agreed to stay to train his replacement.

“The council and manager are very supportive of (police),” said Bisignani, who joined the force in 2001. “Now's a good time to reach out and work with them.”

Bisignani said he has spent most of his years in Dormont working late shifts. “You see a different crowd during the day,” Bisignani said. “People have asked me, ‘Are you new here?' and I say, ‘No, I've been here 12 years.' ”

Under the resolution, Bisignani's annual salary as chief would be $90,492, 10 percent more than the top salary for a sergeant, borough Manager Jeff Naftal said.

A native of Pleasant Hills, Bisignani has a degree in administration of justice from the University of Pittsburgh and joined the Clairton Police Department in 1999. He became a sergeant in Dormont three years ago.

A few months after joining Dormont, Bisignani was among the first officers called to a homicide at the former Book Rack bookstore on Potomac Avenue. The state later recognized him and several other officers for working with Allegheny County detectives to apprehend a homeless man who confessed to beating store owner Ann Schmidt to death when she refused him money.

Bisignani has worked with the District Attorney's Narcotics Enforcement Team and has trained to process evidence such as fingerprints, shoe prints and tire impressions.

As chief, he hopes to work with Naftal and the South Hills Council of Governments to expand training options for Dormont's officers, such as weapons training and joint exercises with Mt. Lebanon and Castle Shannon police on responding to emergencies at schools.

Bisignani said he plans to be a “working chief,” answering calls and patrolling the borough.

“I plan to lead by example. I want my guys to see me at the same training, on the same calls,” he said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625.

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