Public safety nominee in Pittsburgh vows to restore trust

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

Stephen Bucar said he's using his “gut instinct” honed from 30 years in law enforcement to rebuild a Pittsburgh Public Safety Department tainted by scandal.

Mayor Bill Peduto last month nominated Bucar as acting public safety director, overseeing a department reeling from the indictment of former Chief Nate Harper and allegations of cronyism and corruption. On Thursday, a police clerk sued the city in federal court, claiming she's been suspended for more than a year because she objected to giving special treatment to a Harper friend seeking valet parking variances.

Bucar, who has worked as a municipal police officer, state trooper and FBI supervisor in charge of counterterrorism investigations, said he hopes to demonstrate that he can be trusted and respected.

“I'm not telling you that I'm the savior and that I'm perfect, but I'm a straight shooter,” Bucar said on Thursday. “I don't BS them. I look them in the eye. I don't lie to them. I tell them why I got into law enforcement. I tell them that I can understand why they might have bad morale.

“Hopefully, my message is resonating and starts to give them a little hope that times are going to get better.”

Officer Howard McQuillan came away with a good first impression. McQuillan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1, said he had a short and informal first meeting last week with Bucar.

“He's a pretty decent guy, down to earth,” McQuillan said. “It seems to me like he's willing to work with us.”

Bucar, 54, who was living in Nazareth, Northampton County, moved to a South Side apartment. He grew up in West Brownsville. His stepfather was a coal miner and his grandfather a steelworker.

He said his career in law enforcement took root as a child when his family taught him that helping others was the right thing to do. A neighbor, who was a state trooper, encouraged him to join the West Brownsville police department.

Bucar's ambition transcends to his children. Daughter, Jennifer, is an FBI agent in Boston and son, Nicholas, a state trooper in Chester County.

“I didn't encourage them,” he said. “I didn't want to force a career on them.”

He retired from the FBI in May to accept the job because he was searching for a post-FBI career and tried for years to return to Pittsburgh. Bucar, who is married, has family in the region, including his mother, and two siblings.

“I was getting to the age where if I didn't make a post-retirement decision then I was afraid I would be unmarketable,” he said. “It was a humbling surprise that the mayor decided to select me for this position.”

He took a pay cut — from $160,000 to $125,000 a year — when he accepted the job, which is subject to City Council approval.

A long-distance runner, Bucar has run in four Pittsburgh Marathons and two Lehigh Valley Marathons. He runs in his spare time along river trails.

Bucar said he hasn't been in Pittsburgh long enough — his first day was June 9 — to know what changes might be in store. He said he has been meeting public safety employees. So far he has met top-level supervisors and some rank-and-file employees while touring facilities.

“I haven't met anybody in any of the bureaus so far who've caused me to believe that I have a major catastrophe or problem on my hands,” he said.

He said his management style is to include all sides, avoid micromanaging and make decisions based on a consensus.

“If I have a problem to solve whatever that may be ... I won't sit here and only rely on my ideas and my decisions,” he said. “I will ask anybody who I think has something to offer to give me their perspective.”

Bucar said he plans to incorporate the latest law enforcement techniques for interviewing suspects and witnesses, crime scene investigations and management into the police department. He said he'd also like to hire more public safety personnel and buy more equipment, but realizes the city's budget could limit that.

Increasing diversity in all public safety departments is a priority.

“I'm actually dumbfounded that we don't have a large number of minority applicants and recruits, because we have such a diverse city,” he said. “How do I fix it? I don't know yet, but I'm intent on fixing it.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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