30 cops' off-duty jobs top $100K each
Thirty members of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau were paid more than $100,000 each for off-duty details over three years, including one lieutenant who earned nearly $261,000 and a husband-wife duo who drew more than a quarter-million dollars.
The Tribune-Review found the police Office of Special Events paid officers more than $17.4 million from Jan. 1, 2010, to Feb. 22, 2013. About two-thirds of the 850-member force work special details for events, businesses and construction projects.
The total does not include officers' regular wages or overtime, off-duty income that businesses directly paid officers, or money that officers make from separate jobs and military reserve work.
Records show 327 officers did not participate in off-duty details because they were first-year employees, were barred for medical problems, suspended for disciplinary reasons, or perhaps were not interested. FBI and Internal Revenue Service investigators apparently are interested in the payouts — and how the city handled a $3.85 hourly administrative fee it collects for each officer's off-duty work. Agents seized records from the police events and personal and finance offices last month.
“When FBI agents are going through your paperwork, it's a sign that the system's broken,” said Officer Robert C. Swartzwelder, 48, of Brighton Heights, a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Management Committee.
The FBI has contacted businesses that employ uniformed off-duty officers.
“As we've been led to believe, we are one of many businesses the federal authorities have made requests of, and have cooperated fully with those requests,” Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts said.
The numbers show top benefactors of off-duty details are “schedulers,” officers who act as liaisons between the department and bar owners, merchants and event planners who rely on moonlighting cops for security. The bureau collected nearly $2.3 million in fees from these firms between 2010 and 2012.
Leading the list is Lt. Thomas J. Atkins, 57, of Banksville, who earned $260,798 from special details since 2010. That does not include his base salary of $84,993 or the $15,901 the city paid him for overtime and court duty.
Atkins, an acting commander who supervises officers in the Pittsburgh Municipal Courts Building during the day, moonlights as a scheduler for himself and other officers working off-duty outside Rivers Casino, PNC Park and Consol Energy Center.
“I'm the scheduler so I can choose what I can do,” Atkins said. “I usually work all the time. I'm a workaholic.”
A husband-wife team — the Gasiorowskis of South Side Slopes — combined to earn $264,649 in special pay since 2010. Sgt. Kevin Gasiorowski, 44, oversees the burglary squad, and his wife, Christie, 39, works in special events, the office that handles payments for details and sends out notices of available work. She earned $99,799, narrowly missing the top 30 list of those making at least $100,000.
Her supervisor, Carol A. Ehlinger, 50, of Stanton Heights, has earned $110,736.84 in special detail pay since 2010. She did not return messages seeking comment.
Kevin Gasiorowski said he typically gets off-duty assignments through fellow officers. He said the city's secondary employment system rewards officers and citizens: “It's extra police presence that taxpayers aren't paying for.”
Second on the list, at $178,858 in off-duty pay since 2010, is Detective Frank Rende of the graffiti task force. Rende, 55, declined to comment. He schedules police security for Bossa Nova restaurant, Downtown, and other smaller jobs.
Sgt. William G. Haines Jr. of the night felony section collected $172,129, placing third. He said he built relationships with businesses such as The Bank of New York Mellon and Bakery Square, which trust him to schedule off-duty officers.
Walnut Capital hired Haines to schedule police for security at Bakery Square in East Liberty seven days a week, partner Gregg Perelman said.
“It's important to have someone in control that I can rely on,” Perelman said.
“We're bringing in money for the city, and we're not doing anything but helping defray manpower issues,” said Haines, 43, of the South Side. “I don't understand why the city grimaces at what we're doing.”
‘Under the table' pay
The police union says it annually handles dozens of complaints from lower-ranking officers about secondary employment details, including allegations that:
• Schedulers give jobs to friends first.
• A “Detail Mafia” among some officers gave them the jump on the most lucrative details under the first-come, first-served system.
• Some firms may pay officers “under the table” to avoid the administrative surcharge or avoid paying time and a half on an officer's wages, or both.
Mystery accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Credit Union, opened by the chief's office and apparently tied to the moonlighting, led Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to ask former Chief Nate Harper to resign. Harper is not charged with any crime.
FOP President Michael LaPorte told the Trib he asked Public Safety Director Mike Huss to move the secondary employment system to the City Controller's Office. To do so might require changing the union contract.
Acting Chief Regina McDonald, 63, of Sheraden said Feb. 21 when she took over that she would like to reform the secondary employment system.
On Wednesday, McDonald conceded that the collective bargaining agreement and arbitration decisions prevent her from removing schedulers from the system.
Locked out of system
“The only way to restore public trust now is to make the secondary employment system into a completely independent entity, outside of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau,” Swartzwelder said. “We need to set up a system so that it's completely unbiased. We shouldn't be seeing some officers making so much money while many others are locked out of the system.”
Several officers say they would not need to earn special detail pay if the city hiked base wages.
Narcotics Detective Mark Goob said he makes about $60,000 annually, less than officers in some suburban communities. He said he accepts details to help make ends meet — earning $105,162.37 in moonlighting pay since 2010.
“I'd work less details if I could afford to,” said Goob, 45, of Bon Air.
Zone 4 Sgt. May G. Fong, 56, of Brookline, who has earned $141,816.97 in off-duty pay since 2010, said no one helps her get off-duty gigs. She and others use the computerized “pick lists” that special events posts, and they work hard, she said.
“I get very, very little sleep,” Fong said.
Fong said she works traffic duty at construction sites, usually in warmer months. Though she would like officials to tweak the system, she hopes any changes will continue to reward officers who don't mind work and have family flexibility to make extra money.
“It's a lot fairer now than it used to be. People used to give them out to the people they knew. Now everyone gets a fair chance,” Fong said.
Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, wants to ensure a fair chance, too. The board is reviewing how to bring greater transparency to the special events office and stronger controls over job assignments.
“Someone has to get it away from the police bureau,” said Pittinger, 59, of Duquesne Heights. “As it is now, the office that handles secondary employment is secluded. No one seems to be monitoring it properly.”
City Councilman Patrick Dowd, 44, criticizes the amount of time officers spend on off-duty jobs. He wants the bureau to quit sending uniformed personnel to work outside strip joints, a practice Harper's administration allowed.
“I've heard experienced officers in the bureau say to me that secondary details are the downfall of the bureau,” said Dowd, D-Highland Park. “I might not go so far as that, but I do think that because of secondary details, the bureau is out of balance.”
Staff writer Jeremy Boren contributed to this report. Margaret Harding, Bob Bauder and Carl Prine are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Harding at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach Bauder at 412-765-2312. Reach Prine at 412-320-7826 or email@example.com.