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Police patrols back on track in Pittsburgh's South Side

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

A plan for a special squadron of Pittsburgh police officers to patrol the South Side apparently is back on track after a meeting Friday between city and county officials and business owners.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss, who nixed the plan this week, agreed to allow the program to move forward, said Zone 3 city police Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly, who attended the meeting. Huss did not return phone calls.

“It took a bit of reasoning and concessions on everybody's part, but he agreed to do that,” McNeilly said. “We were afraid of the mayhem that might have resulted had we not implemented some kind of plan.”

A city consultant, the Responsible Hospitality Institute, planned to announce an effort to pair off-duty officers paid by bars and restaurants with on-duty officers and supervisors in the South Side entertainment district. Huss halted the program, citing the department's problems with off-duty police details.

“We're still talking about changes to the policy,” said FOP President Sgt. Michael LaPorte, who did not attend the meeting but spoke with Huss afterward. “As far as I know, until a policy is put together we agree on, nothing changes.”

The FBI is investigating police finances involving money that officers earn while working off-duty details. A grand jury in March indicted former Chief Nate Harper for diverting some of that money into unauthorized accounts at the police credit union and tapping it for personal use.

The South Side Bar and Restaurant Association threatened to cancel police details they utilize each weekend because of Huss' decision.

In addition to McNeilly, Huss met with Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., City Councilman Bruce Kraus, whose district includes the South Side, city financial officials and South Side business owners.

Zappala, who supports the new patrols, wants additional police supervisors so the officers “work in a more cohesive fashion,” according to spokesman Mike Manko.

Jim Peters, president of the hospitality institute, said the meeting went well.

“This is a pilot program that really isn't going to cost the city any more money,” Peters said. “Prior to today's meeting there was some question as to whether this pilot program would be implemented.

“At the end of the day there was a commitment to let it move forward.”

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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