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City of Pittsburgh can't count employee take-home vehicles

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By Bob Bauder and Margaret Harding

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 11:42 p.m.

The City of Pittsburgh has no policy governing use of employee take-home vehicles, and the Mayor's Office does not know which employees have them.

Mayor Bill Peduto, who took office Jan. 6, said Operations Chief Guy Costa is taking inventory of city-owned vehicles and his office will issue rules for them.

The lack of oversight makes the system ripe for abuse and liability, Peduto said.

In July 2012, police Cmdr. Linda Rosato-Barone was driving a take-home car when she was severely injured in a crash in Robinson with her daughter. She missed more than a year of work. Rosato-Barone did not return messages seeking comment.

“It went out of control the same way the free parking passes went out of control,” Peduto said, referring to passes that permitted city and county employees to park in Pittsburgh for free. “We don't even have lists.”

A 2008 Tribune-Review story put the number of cars at 61. At the time, former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pledged to reduce that to 29. Ravenstahl could not be reached for comment, but the Peduto administration said department directors decided who got vehicles.

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald said her department has 48 for command staff, motorcycle officers and undercover detectives. She said there aren't clear rules for their use.

“We're going to call them all back in and start to distribute them,” Peduto said, “but before we do that I want to set criteria ... for who needs a take-home vehicle. I don't have a 24-hour vehicle and I'm the mayor. The others are going to have to show me why they need one.”

Sgt. Mike LaPorte, Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 president, said SWAT team members need them.

They drive personal vehicles — and obey traffic laws — when they respond to emergencies, said LaPorte, a member of SWAT.

“In the back of their minds, they're thinking of babies crying and people dying and, ‘I have to get there as fast as I can,' but you have to obey lights and stop signs,” LaPorte said.

McDonald said that if SWAT members received cars, other units would want them.

“It just wouldn't stop,” McDonald said. “Speaking realistically, we can't.”

McDonald has a take-home vehicle but said she typically drives her personal vehicle for travel unrelated to work, and expects others to do the same.

“When the administration looks at this, I think those are some of the areas that will have to be discussed — what are the parameters, as far as use?”

Motorcycle officers take cycles home because the bureau has no place to safely store them, McDonald said.

The eight members of the narcotics and vice unit have take-home vehicles because their hours can change based on investigations. They may go straight from home to a surveillance detail, for example, McDonald said. “They're utilizing it for the investigation.”

Bob Bauder and Margaret Harding are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Bauder at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com. Reach Harding at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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