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Pittsburgh police department places few limits on outside work

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By Margaret Harding and Carl Prine
Saturday, March 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

The Pittsburgh police department's rules on outside employment are so minimal that officers can work almost any after-hours job, so long as they don't wear their uniforms or use their police powers while doing so, the Tribune-Review found.

Unlike the Pennsylvania State Police and a growing number of city police departments, Pittsburgh officers don't need approval from their chain of command to moonlight. In fact, the policy regulating outside employment consists of just 12 sentences that fill less than a half-page.

The policy bans officers from working outside jobs that could pose a potential conflict of interest, including but not limited to work as process servers, bill collectors, private investigators, tow truck drivers or for any business that collects money or merchandise. Officers also may not work for any gaming establishment that's not exempted by law or any business or union that is on strike.

Officers are warned that outside employment cannot pose “a threat to the status or dignity of the police,” such as establishments that sell porno­graphy or “provide entertainment or services of a sexual nature.”

The Trib reported last Monday that ex-police Chief Nate Harper — under the spotlight as part of a widening cop corruption scandal — and department brass have approved off-duty details or “secondary employment” for uniformed officers at strip clubs. Such work appeared on face to violate the “sexual nature” language in the police policy.

After the newspaper's report, Pittsburgh acting police Chief Regina McDonald sent letters last week to Blush and Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club stating that the department no longer would allow officers to be hired for off-duty details there because it may bring the police into disrepute.

Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson, left to explain the sudden reversal, said that “a determination was made that establishments that provide entertainment of a sexual nature meet this criteria.”

An attorney for Blush and the Fraternal Order of Police union said Friday they would fight the unilateral decision. Jonathan Kamin, an attorney representing Blush, said the decision violates the Downtown club's rights and protection of speech. If McDonald does not reconsider, Kamin said he would seek a court injunction.

Sgt. Michael LaPorte, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, said the union will file a grievance because McDonald changed the secondary employment policy on off-duty details without notifying the union.

With “outside employment,” Donaldson told the Trib that officers don't have to reveal or register their employer to supervisors.

“Our policies and procedures are guidelines as to what is acceptable or expected behavior of our personnel,” he said. “If you violate the policy, then the appropriate action is taken to modify the behavior.”

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office is reviewing whether companies involving four Pittsburgh officers should have private detective licenses, spokesman Mike Manko said.

They are: Kincaid Security LLC, incorporated in 2003 and which is linked to Sgt. Charles Henderson; Evans Polygraph Services Inc., a firm started in 2004 by homicide Detective Scott Evans; Pittsburgh Collision Reconstruction Services LLC, founded in 2009 by Sgt. Daniel Connolly, head of the bureau's Collision Investigation Unit; and L&N Security Services Inc., operated by Officer Martin Link and retired Officer Daniel Novak.

On Feb. 10, Link used “L&N Security” as a call-sign while coordinating site security for a helicopter lift of three chiller units and piping atop 1 PPG Place, Downtown. L&N was responsible for blocking off Downtown traffic and hanging no-parking signs along thoroughfares, according to an internal operational order from then-Assistant Chief McDonald that was provided to the Trib.

Sgt. Carol Ehlinger, the director of the department's embattled Special Events office, which coordinates some off-duty details with employers, was the on-call supervisor on the helicopter job. Ehlinger was among 30 Pittsburgh police officers whom the Trib found made more than $100,000 in off-duty detail pay from Jan. 1, 2010, through Feb. 22.

Link could not be reached.

Evans and Henderson didn't return messages seeking comment.

Connolly, who received extensive accident reconstruction training through the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, said he reviewed his consulting business with a lawyer to make sure he was on solid ground. He said he does not consult on any accidents in the city and estimated that he reviewed about five cases last year.

“An attorney sends me a deposition, a police report and pictures of the cars, and they say, ‘What can you tell me about this crash and who's at fault?' ” he said. "I'll be honest, sometimes they don't like what I have to say.”

To avoid problems or even the appearance of a conflict, lawyer and former FBI agent Jeff Killeen said the city should write a new code of conduct for Pittsburgh police similar to the one used by the U.S. Department of Justice. Then, he said, the police should hire an ethics and compliance officer while the city creates an independent investigative arm to look out for wrongdoing at any of its agencies.

Killeen speaks from experience: One of his duties before retiring from the FBI in late 2011 was going after fellow agents who broke the law or fell short on their ethics.

The FBI forbids agents from outside employment with rare exceptions, like teaching, he said.

Pittsburgh police officers who have shared some of the more than $17 million from off-duty details since 2010 have told the Trib they work the details because they need the money. Suburban police officers generally make much more money, they say, while city police pay scales have stagnated.

Margaret Harding and Carl Prine are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Harding at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com. Reach Prine at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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