ShareThis Page
News

Police officers argue part-time status taxes them, safety

| Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

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."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me