Wave of resignations leaves Cheswick police short-handed
Cheswick officials say the resignation of seven part-time officers from the borough’s police department last month has led to shifts going unstaffed and a reliance on neighboring police departments to respond to calls.
The resignations come as the department adjusts to the loss of former Chief Bob Scott, who retired as part of a lawsuit settlement in December, and new interim Chief Mike Naviglia. Naviglia serves full time as Springdale Township’s chief and part time as Cheswick’s chief.
“It’s difficult,” Naviglia said of the staffing. “There’s not a whole lot of applicants out there.”
In addition to Naviglia, Cheswick now has four part-time officers, including one who was scheduled to start working Tuesday.
Naviglia said although there have been some shifts where there hasn’t been a Cheswick officer patrolling, the borough has never been without police coverage for emergencies. He said there have been about 25 police calls since Jan. 1 and about half of those have been emergency calls. Springdale Township officers have responded to all of those calls.
“I know some people are concerned,” he said. “In the scope of things, the call ratio isn’t very high.”
Councilman Michael Girardi said residents shouldn’t have any concerns about calling 911.
“If they call 911, someone is showing up and someone is showing up very quickly,” he said. “We’re doing our best to get as many shifts covered as we can.”
Mayor Daniel Carroll, who oversees the police department, said the officers who resigned said they were doing so to pursue opportunities elsewhere, but he believes there’s more to it.
“I know they all left primarily because Chief Scott was leaving,” he said.
Scott’s retirement and lawsuit, along with the potential of Cheswick merging departments with Springdale Township, had already been a point of contention between Carroll and borough council.
In June, Scott sued the borough, alleging officials breached his contract, failed to pay him overtime and retaliated against him when he asked for compensation.
The 28-page lawsuit, filed in federal court in Pittsburgh, outlined years of alleged unpaid overtime, failed contract and budget negotiations with borough council and subsequent “embarrassment and humiliation” when council reduced Scott’s salary by 10 percent in 2016.
Scott’s salary was reduced from $73,700 to $66,590, effective Jan. 1, 2017. Scott was the only full-time officer in the department. He performed chief and patrolman duties.
Cheswick spends about $300,000 a year to run its police department. Part-time officers start at nearly $17 per hour.
Scott originally was seeking full back pay and benefits, including pension contributions, attorney’s fees and associated costs, along with damages and an additional payment to offset the adverse tax consequences of receiving the damages in a lump sum. Details of the settlement agreement have not been made public.
Cheswick Council President Paul Jack said it’s not a concern that so many part-time officers have left.
“We have part-time people, and when they get full-time jobs they often times leave,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe it’s related to Scott’s retirement.”
Carroll said in his 13 years overseeing the police department, it has never had shifts go unstaffed even as part-timers left for other work. Carroll said he warned council there likely would be resignations after Scott left and said he recommended naming one of the part-time officers as interim chief.
Carroll said he doesn’t have any authority over the department anymore after council passed a resolution in December taking the power away from the mayor’s position to hire and fire within the police department.
He said he’s been invited to sit in on officer interviews since then, but he hasn’t participated.
“I can’t work with people I don’t trust,” Carroll said. “I don’t trust these people at all.”
Girardi said that decision was made in part because Carroll stopped showing up to meetings, stopped responding to emails and failed to provide department information that was needed for a committee that is exploring the possibility of merging Springdale Township and Cheswick police departments.
Girardi said Carroll still has authority over the department in terms of scheduling and day-to-day operations.
“He has just as much authority as any other mayor in the commonwealth,” Girardi said.
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @emilybalser.
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, email@example.com or via Twitter .