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Allegheny County police union cool to park rangers plan

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 11:09 p.m.

A proposal to replace police officers in Allegheny County parks with rangers will complicate contract negotiations, the head of the officers union said on Thursday.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald shared the proposal with county police officers last week and intends to include it in his budget proposal this year.

“This would have an impact on negotiations,” said Detective Richard Usner, president of the Allegheny County Police Association. “It changes the way job selection for officers is done if officers in the parks are reallocated.”

Fitzgerald did not think the proposal would affect contract negotiations and said the two are not connected.

Police officers are split on the proposal, Usner said.

County police officers choose where they are stationed and patrol based on seniority. They're based at Pittsburgh International Airport and park stations in North Park and South Park, which officers use as bases to patrol all nine county parks. The park spots are the most sought-after, Usner said. Selections for next year's posts will start in October.

The police union officials released a statement on Thursday that said they would be “reserving our direct support of (Fitzgerald's) plan pending more information and completion of collective bargaining over the proposal.”

About 44 officers work in the parks and 75 to 80 work at the airport, Usner said. Fewer than 50 officers work in the department's investigative units handling investigations of homicides, drug-related offenses, rapes, robberies and other serious crimes for municipal police forces.

Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt appoints officers to the investigative units.

Usner would not say how the union might use the proposal during negotiations. The officers' four-year contract expires at the end of the year. Negotiations started recently, Usner said.

Replacing park officers with rangers would not result in layoffs, Fitzgerald said. The proposal would re-allocate park officers to investigative duties. The county spend between $500,000 to $1 million to hire rangers.

Unlike county police, rangers would not be armed and would not have arrest powers.

James Craft, a professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business, said Fitzgerald speaking publicly about the proposal and mustering support for it will strengthen his position in the negotiations. Persuading Fitzgerald to take the park rangers proposal off the table could cost the union other provisions it might want, such as increases to wages and benefits.

“It creates a forceful position that the county executive might use,” Craft said. “If the union doesn't want to do that, this is when they will give something up. If they want the management side to give up on it, they are going to cede more.”

Fitzgerald said that is not the case.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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