Police officers argue part-time status taxes them, safety
Changing police uniforms to go from one part-time job to the next is nothing new to West View police Officer Matt Pavlecic.
He's just glad he hasn't had to do it lately.
"At one point, I held three (police) jobs at the same time. It's unbelievably tough," said Pavlecic, who now earns enough at West View that he only works one part-time job. "There are times you (work a double shift) or you might sleep seven, six hours and have to be back out in another uniform."
The idea of part-time police forces has stirred controversy in towns such as Forest Hills, whose council cited spiraling overtime costs when floating the idea of using part-time officers. Forest Hills has 10 full-time officers. About 175 residents packed a Forest Hills council meeting last month to speak about the matter.
Forest Hills police officer Dan Sharp, head of the local union, said officers are against the move.
"A part-time officer usually has to work two to three jobs and usually would be coming from one job to Forest Hills. He's going to be tired," said Sharp, who cited court issues related to arrests and lack of experience as negatives. "Our other main concern is that you're constantly training new people. Chances are a part-timer will leave if a full-time position opens up somewhere."
Many of the smaller 118 police agencies in Allegheny County employ part-timers as a way to ease the burden on a thin budget while still maintaining a police presence. Most of the departments that use part-time police say they wish their budgets would allow all full-time officers, but part-time police help fill scheduling gaps at a lower cost.
"Keeping it simple, (the answer is) the budget," said Verona police Chief Ron McLemore, whose department employs three full-time and nine part-time officers.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania criminology professor Paul McCauley said part-time positions can be problematic because officers must keep straight different departmental policies and procedures.
"Part-timers are paid a few more bucks than minimum wage; there's no fringe benefit packages. So there's questions on how well they're trained and prepared, especially when they work in more than one department," McCauley said.
He said municipalities must cooperate with one another and share resources in order to save money. Otherwise, all departments end up buying the same things.
"One department can buy a motorcycle; another department can get a canine," McCauley said.
Cost issues with police are not limited to Allegheny County. One solution, he said, is for the state to certify the sheriff's departments in all counties with police powers — much like the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office already has.
Sheriff Bill Mullen, whose deputies can make arrests like any police officer, said his office can help out towns in a pinch but can't afford to do it regularly.
"We may be able to help out somewhere for a shift or two but we can't afford to put someone out permanently," said Mullen, who noted deputies have helped out in Pittsburgh and a few other smaller municipalities sparingly.
Financial constraints have forced some towns, such as Etna, to cut full-time positions in tough economic times only to rehire full-time officers later.
After a flood in 1986, Etna was forced to lay off half the police department by 1990, said borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage. Etna has six full-time and two part-time officers, she said.
"We supplemented with part-time officers. They were very good officers but after leaving a shift, they might not be back for two to three days. Reports were languishing; investigations were languishing," Ramage said. "When we got back on our feet financially, we went back to full time."
Part-time officers like Officer James Sedlak, 31, said once you get a manageable schedule, the work is the same as a full-time officer. He generally works four shifts per week at Oakmont and one shift in Turtle Creek.
"It's not too bad once you get a certain schedule," said Sedlak, who said his chiefs and other officers are accommodating and that he enjoys the work. "I know quite a few guys who (work multiple shifts for several departments). It's tough for a lot of people."