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New rules keep police schedulers

| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

A months-long overhaul of Pittsburgh police policies regulating off-duty work has led to changes in the role of officers who schedule work for their fellow officers, public safety officials said Tuesday.

“We have a secondary employment policy that goes a long way in reforming how secondary employment is done,” Public Safety Director Mike Huss said. “This does address all the major issues and concerns I had.”

The changes address how officers are paid and the number of hours they can work but does not eliminate the use of schedulers. Instead, it prohibits businesses from paying a scheduler's fee to officers who pick fellow officers to work details, Acting Chief Regina McDonald said.

“They'll still coordinate the details,” McDonald said. “Since they're not allowed to benefit from it financially, we may see people dropping off.”

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Mike LaPorte, a city police sergeant, said the union has not reviewed a final copy of the policy but has worked with Huss to make changes to it. LaPorte, who is a scheduler but doesn't charge a fee, said he knows schedulers are concerned about losing that income.

“For some people, I guess that's a lot of money,” he said. “I think your time is worth something.”

But Huss said he didn't think it was appropriate for officers to earn money that way.

“Some get a flat rate for being a scheduler, and I look at that as certain officers making money off the backs of other officers,” Huss said. “I don't think that's right.”

In March, Huss said he planned to review the secondary employment policies of other police departments as he worked to revamp city policies in response to a federal investigation into the police bureau and the Special Events Office.

The Special Events Office oversees off-duty details, in which businesses and other organizations pay officers to provide security, and events that require a permit and a city police presence, such as parades and marathons.

The investigation into the office's funds led to charges against former Chief Nate Harper. Harper has pleaded guilty to 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.

“Some folks may say ‘eliminate secondary employment,' but I don't see that as a viable option,” Huss said. “If we don't have these officers, we're going to have to hire additional officers on the taxpayer's dime, and this does supplement officers' income.”

The new policy, which will take effect on Friday, requires organizations to pay officers for off-duty work through the city, not directly. Assignments will be scheduled through an outside firm, Cover Your Assets, and pay $42.97 per hour, based on the time-and-a-half rate earned by a fourth year police officer, Huss said.

It reduces the number of hours new officers can spend working off-duty, he said.

Officers aren't allowed to work details until they have 18 months on the job and will be limited to 16 hours a week until they reach three years of service, at which point they can work 24 hours, he said. Officers with at least four years of experience can work up to 32 hours a week off duty.

The Special Events Office, staffed by Sgt. Carol Ehlinger and Officer Christie Gasiorowski at police headquarters, is expected to open in its new Downtown location with civilian staffers on Friday, Huss said. McDonald said Ehlinger will be reassigned to a patrol zone. Gasiorowski will continue to assist with special events.

“We have so many events,” McDonald said. “She'll coordinate from the police perspective.”

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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