Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto orders badges for city administrators confiscated
Pittsburgh's top administrators don't need no stinking badges.
Mayor Bill Peduto didn't actually utter that famous movie line from “Blazing Saddles” when he learned that the city's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security purchased badges for him and 12 others, but he immediately ordered all but four of them confiscated, according to Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin.
“The concern was that only a limited number of people should have these,” Acklin said. “Only four were issued.”
Peduto, Acklin, Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa and Public Safety Director Stephen A. Bucar have the gold-colored badges with ID cards in leather credential cases that resemble those carried by federal law enforcement officers.
Acklin said they are meant to be used for identification — in the event of a major emergency — to gain access through local, state and federal disaster lines.
He could not provide their cost but said the city is attempting to return the others.
One law enforcement expert said the city should think twice about issuing badges to employees other than police.
Firefighters, paramedics, animal control officers, school crossing guards, building inspectors, members of the city's Citizens Police Review Board and Emergency Management and Homeland Security personnel carry badges, although they are all different than those given to the mayor and his top aides, said Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler.
“Most people, when they see a badge, they think police,” said Marcus Felson, a criminal justice professor at Texas State University. “It's a bad idea to give badges to non-law enforcement personnel. It's an invitation to misuse.”
Felson cited examples from across the country of government employees using badges to gain such things as free parking. Pittsburgh police in August charged a state parole agent with impersonating a police officer because he flashed badge and claimed he was a state trooper during a confrontation involving his son outside a South Side bar.
Former Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio came under fire nine years ago for issuing badges to “honorary deputies.” A federal grand jury found that 297 people had the badges, and critics claimed they were used for such nefarious purposes as attempting to arrest people and avoiding traffic tickets.
Sheriff William P. Mullen, a former deputy chief for Pittsburgh police, quashed the program when he took office in 2006 and collected all the badges and credentials, according to Chief Deputy Kevin Kraus.
Acklin said Raymond DeMichiei, deputy director of Emergency Management, followed the practice of previous administrations early this year when he ordered the badges.
Acklin said he didn't know about them until they arrived about 10 days ago, about the time the Tribune-Review began asking about them.
National disaster management standards adopted by City Council in 2006 call for credentialing personnel who would respond to an emergency, but they do not require metal badges, according to Toler.
However, city managers have distributed badges for identification at least since 2002, when Tom Murphy, a North Side resident and former state House member, was mayor.
Former Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said he was given a gold badge around 2002 when he was appointed assistant director. He said Costa, then the Public Works director, issued it for identification purposes. Kaczorowski said he needed it one time — to get through a police line during an emergency on Mt. Washington.
“It was more of a Guy thing,” he said. “I didn't know what the people (in the mayor's office) were doing. I think it makes sense. I only had to use it one time, but it was worth it.”
Kaczorowski said he left the badge in his desk when he retired last year.
Costa said the badges predated him in Public Works; he inherited a former director's badge.
“They just kept handing them down,” he said.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.