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Pittsburgh to foot bill for police working Market Square during St. Patrick's Day

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 11:36 p.m.

The city of Pittsburgh will foot the bill for the police officers working in Market Square during St. Patrick's Day festivities this year, public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said on Tuesday.

That's a change from previous years when some Downtown businesses paid for dozens of off-duty officers to ensure the safety of revelers on one of the city's busiest — and rowdiest — days. Drunken fights and arrests marred previous St. Patrick's Day celebrations, highlighted by a Downtown parade and Market Square party.

“It's going to be a safe day, no matter what we have to do internally,” Toler said.

Police administrators sought about 50 off-duty officers to work March 15 in Market Square, but few signed up as officers privately discussed a possible boycott of off-hours details.

Public Safety Director Michael Huss changed the policy that governs such extra security work for officers last year. Changes include prohibiting direct cash payments to officers for their work and establishing a set rate of pay for officers based on rank. Before, officers could negotiate their own rates.

Sgt. Mike LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, said officers talked about boycotting details because many were upset about the changes, but nothing was decided. They have been a point of friction between Huss and the union since January, when LaPorte wrote Mayor Bill Peduto that Huss had lost the FOP's confidence.

“You shouldn't be using taxpayer dollars to pay for a private event,” LaPorte said. “I hate to see them jeopardize the safety of the general public and take people out of the patrol zones just for that event.”

Toler could not say how much it will cost the city to pay the officers this St. Patrick's Day. LaPorte said union members voted not to walk in this year's parade because of manpower concerns.

Event organizers have said about 150,000 people usually line Downtown's streets for the parade, one of the nation's largest.

In 2012, the city established a family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration in Market Square. Then the square opened to adult festivities, including street sales of beer.

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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