Pittsburgh public safety chief will have free hand to attack cronyism, Peduto says

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 11:15 p.m.

Pittsburgh's new public safety director will have free rein to change a police bureau culture that Mayor Bill Peduto described as “mediocrity at best and corruption at worst.”

Nominee Stephen A. Bucar, an FBI special agent, will team with solicitor Lourdes Sanchez Ridge and Deborah Walker, director of the Office of Municipal Investigations, to root out corruption, favoritism and political cronyism, and make whatever other changes they determine are necessary, Peduto said on Thursday.

He said Bucar, whose appointment is subject to City Council approval, would play a major role in choosing a new police chief.

“I need a public safety director who can instill value and integrity within a police bureau and put a clarion call out to every other department in this city that the ways of the past are gone forever,” Peduto said.

Though he singled out the police bureau, Peduto said similar problems exist within the public safety agencies across the city. Criticisms that have confronted the bureaus include favoritism in the police moonlighting system, accusations that interactions have been tense between police and residents of poor neighborhoods and incidents in which firefighters have been arrested on DUI and assault charges.

Police and fire union leaders disputed the mayor's characterization.

“The men and women in this department follow the Pittsburgh police creed: integrity, accountability and respect,” Pittsburgh police Detective Jim Glick, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, told the Tribune-Review.

“This is (Peduto's) department now. His department is not corrupt. What he's doing by saying that is damaging the already beaten morale,” Glick said.

He pointed out that the only person charged with corruption in the police department was former Chief Nate Harper, who was appointed by Luke Ravenstahl, the previous mayor, and approved by city council. Harper is serving a prison sentence for failing to file income taxes and diverting about $30,000 in police funds. Ravenstahl pushed Harper to resign in February 2013. Acting Chief Regina McDonald has been in place since then.

“Pittsburgh police are the most professional, honest, hard-working people I've ever worked with,” Glick said. “I think it's time the mayor realized that, because we're working for him.”

Ralph Sicuro, vice president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1, said Peduto's transition team found no problems during a review of the union's disciplinary procedures.

“This is news to us that there is a problem,” he said of the mayor's comments. “His team found that we were handling discipline the way we should be.”

Bucar, 54, a native of Washington County, resides in Nazareth in Northampton County. He has spent a good part of his FBI career supervising teams of agents in the fight against terrorism, according to his resume. His experience includes investigations into attacks at the World Trade Center in 1993 and 2001.

He had worked as a Pennsylvania State Police trooper and on the West Brownsville police department.

Peduto said he expects Bucar to use his extensive experience to develop a checklist of education, training, background and other requirements that will help identify the next police chief.

The mayor said he promised Bucar that he would “have his back” in changing the culture within public safety, which, he said, includes officers who moonlight to earn up to double their salaries on jobs handed out based on favoritism, and discipline and promotions based on cronyism.

“You have within that almost a protected class of political appointees who have been given promotions that are promulgating a system of cronyism and favoritism that holds the good officers down,” Peduto said.

Officers, the mayor said, have told him that “the most crippling part of their job is the old school parochialism that exists within the ranks of the police bureau.”

Glick said the bureau has been in turmoil during the delay in appointing new leadership, but police officers “haven't missed a step.”

Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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