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South Side bar owners balk at renewing private security applications

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

As many as 20 South Side bars could lose off-duty police protection unless the owners renew their applications with Pittsburgh for private security, according to an internal memo issued on Monday by the assistant police chief.

But owners are balking because the new applications imply that the city on its own can change terms, including pay and hours for off-duty officers, according to one owners' association.

“The new (application) has additional verbiage that takes away many of the individual choices of the business owners who are responsible enough to utilize those detail officers,” said Mike Papariella, president of the South Side Bar and Restaurant Association. “The business owners were told to sign the new (application) or we would be forced to go without the off-duty Pittsburgh police officers.”

Papariella said owners likely will hire private security guards if officers don't show this weekend.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard referred questions on Tuesday to Assistant Chief Regina McDonald, who issued the memo. McDonald did not return an email requesting comment.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office, which increased on-duty police details in the South Side because of rowdy behavior, declined to comment. City Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the neighborhood, did not return phone calls or emails.

Fraternal Order of Police President Mike LaPorte said McDonald violated the union's contract by changing policy for police who moonlight as private security guards. He said the union has filed a grievance with the city.

Papariella said as many as 35 officers typically work at bars on weekends and as many as 20 tavern owners have not renewed the applications.

“It has the propensity to strip about 30 officers off the street,” LaPorte said. “It's so ironic at the very same time when the city is spending thousands of dollars every weekend to amp up enforcement, there are officers who are being funded by private means that you're going to get rid of.”

The city last year paid California-based Responsible Hospitality Institute $100,000 to study the South Side, Downtown and Lawrenceville and recommend ways to improve public safety and nightlife.

City Council on Tuesday introduced legislation to pay the company another $100,000 to coordinate implementation of suggestions, including developing police teams trained to deal with drunken revelers and transportation improvements to safely move people in and out of the South Side.

Ravenstahl in January announced increased weekend police patrols and building inspections in the South Side after five police officers fired shots at a driver involved in a chase along Carson Street while the street was crowded with bar patrons.

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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