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Special Events Office to transfer out of Pittsburgh police headquarters

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 8:51 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss, now deputy director, speaks during a news conference at the City County Building on April 25, 2013.

The beleaguered Pittsburgh police Special Events Office will get a new home Downtown and a makeover to prevent financial misdeeds, Public Safety Director Michael Huss said Thursday.

The office will be moved on May 31 from police headquarters in the North Side to the John P. Robin Civic Building at 200 Ross St., which houses the Bureau of Building Inspection and the Fire Bureau, Huss said.

“It gets it away from the police bureau and gets it Downtown, closer to the functions it needs, such as Finance,” Huss said.

The Special Events Office oversees off-duty details — when businesses and other organizations pay officers for security and permitted events that require city police presence, such as parades or marathons.

A federal investigation into the office's funds led to charges against former Chief Nate Harper, accusing him of diverting at least $70,628.92 from the office into secret accounts at the police credit union and using $31,986.99 to buy restaurant meals, alcohol, gift cards and other items.

In March, Huss said he planned to review the secondary employment policies of other police departments as he worked to revamp policies. He worked with an internal committee to look at New Orleans, Honolulu, San Jose and other departments.

“Many cities get it out of their departments,” Huss said. “It's got to be moved in order to have more oversight. I think it's the best move at this time.”

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald did not return a message seeking comment.

The office, which is under the police assistant chief of administration, will report to Public Safety but Huss said the Finance Department will become more involved with the office than in the past. Huss said he's working with the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 to make contract changes that would allow invoices to go out through Special Events and payments made through the Finance Department.

“You have multiple eyes on it,” Huss said. “It's a better financial way of doing things and it will eliminate the problems we had. At any point, Finance will be able to reconcile both what's been invoiced and what's been collected.”

Sgt. Michael LaPorte, president of the FOP, said he supports the move. He long argued for the office to move out of headquarters.

“We're not hired to be clerks,” LaPorte said. “We need police on the streets, not in an office.”

Two officers work in the Special Events office, but Huss said civilians would staff the new location. Critics within the FOP claimed a “detail mafia” inside the department gave selected cops a jump on the best off-duty jobs.

“I think there's a morale issue in the bureau,” Huss said. “Certain officers feel that some officers were given preferential treatment and some officers have an unfair advantage to secondary employment, and I want to eliminate that.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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