'Buddy day' records sought from Pittsburgh police officials

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 11:33 p.m.

Pittsburgh police commanders scrambled on Thursday to track down records of agreements between officers to work for each other that did not make it to headquarters for review as required, according to a department memo obtained by the Tribune-Review.

A Trib request for records on “buddy days” prompted Acting Assistant Chief of Administration Thomas Stangrecki to discover that “buddy day requests may not have been received on a regular basis if at all” in the police Personnel & Finance office, the memo dated Wednesday said.

The request form stipulates that a copy is to be sent to the payroll office. Because the office does not have them, Stangrecki asked each police zone commander to locate the records, which detail an agreement for one officer to work for another on a day off at no cost to the city. The practice is more than two decades old.

Sam Walker, a retired professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said the “buddy days” forms should be maintained in the chief's or deputy chief's office so top officials can provide oversight to make sure no one is abusing the system.

“The whole thing sounds like an ethical swamp,” Walker said. “I can see buddy days for some personal emergency, a family crisis or whatever, but if it's for convenience to work a second job, I don't like the sound of that at all. It begins to say your main job with the city is not that important.”

Lt. Larry Scirotto, who works in Zone 3, took at least 22 buddy days from November 2012 to November, according to daily assignment sheets obtained by the Trib. The 22 buddy days off were on days when Scirotto officiated college basketball games, according to statsheet.com. He worked 74 games in all during the 2012-13 season, according to the website.

The records do not show that Scirotto worked on his days off to repay days worked for him by a sergeant who has since transferred out of Zone 3.

“We can agree to a monetary settlement,” Scirotto said. “The repayment is an agreement between the two individual officers.”

The police contract prohibits officers from using buddy days so they can work at another job.

Zone 3 Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly said she approves buddy days without asking how officers intend to use them. She emphasized, though, that she would not allow cash payments for working buddy days.

“That practice is not condoned and it should not be allowed,” she said. “If it is taking place, it occurred without my knowledge.”

The city began a review of secondary and outside employment policies following a federal investigation into the police bureau.

The investigation led to the resignation and conviction of former Chief Nate Harper, who pleaded guilty to charges of diverting secondary employment money into a secret account for personal use, and failing to file income tax returns. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 25.

The Trib filed a Right To Know Law request for the “buddy day” forms to determine how frequently officers have used them and how much oversight the bureau's administration has had over the practice.

“We have been advised by the city law department not to respond to media questions,” Acting police Chief Regina McDonald said in an email on Thursday. “We are preparing our responses to the Right To Know requests and will be able to address your questions at a later date.”

McNeilly, as well as other commanders, said they keep copies of the forms in the zone station.

The payroll office is able to track who works for whom using the daily assignment forms that show the work status of officers.

Zone 5 Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor said he was surprised anyone would think to pay a fellow officer for working a buddy day.

“They're a really benign form,” O'Connor said. “This has never come up before. ... To me, it would seem outrageous that you would take cash for that.”

Scirotto said he received approval for his buddy days, and that he often works on his time off to make sure he meets his responsibilities as a lieutenant. He estimated he has about 65 days off a year, including comp time.

“I'm doing what I'm required to do,” Scirotto said. “It's all documented. I'm using the time that's allotted to me. … There is always an approval process. You can't just do it.”

Police union President Mike LaPorte said buddy days typically are used for officers who have run out of discretionary days off and need to cover for an off-the-job injury.

He said he's never heard of officers using buddy days to work a second job.

“That's not to say it hasn't happened,” LaPorte said.

Margaret Harding and Andrew Conte are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Harding at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com. Reach Conte at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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