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Lack of police chief has council concerned

| Monday, Nov. 4, 2002

Pitcairn Council is concerned about enforcement of some borough laws and one councilman believes there is a problem because the community remains without a police chief.

"What's the use of having ordinances if you don't enforce it," Councilman Patsy Pizzuto said. "We never impose a fine."

Residents have complained about the police department's inability to solve problems that include youths defying the 10 p.m. curfew, vandalism and illegal skateboarding throughout the town.

Councilman Orelio Vecchio said the problems might be solved if the police department had a leader.

"This is why we need a chief," he said. "It would be his responsibility to make sure things like this get taken care of. Let's not make excuses."

Pitcairn has been without a police chief since January when council overturned the appointment of former Penn Hills police Sgt. Benjamin Westwood by the previous council a month earlier. The new council considered Westwood's appointment as a "lame duck" decision by the outgoing members and therefore deemed it invalid.

Westwood took the matter to court, and the dispute over his hiring currently is before Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph James, who has scheduling a meeting soon with borough Solicitor Craig Alexander and Westwood's attorney, Paul Boas, to try to resolve the issue.

Westwood since has been rehired as an entry-level patrolman in Penn Hills, a $40,000-a-year position, as he continues to collect his pension.

Pitcairn has not appointed a chief to replace Westwood in part because the matter is still pending in court. Police Cpl. Russ Cain has served as acting chief since January.

At least one council member, meanwhile, said he witnessed police ignoring illegal skateboarders, despite the problem being an area of focus for council, police and residents the past two months. Police confiscated at least 10 skateboards and held them until parents came to retrieve them and learn about the fines that could be levied if the skateboarding on borough sidewalks, streets and private property continued.

Mayor Betsy Stevick said police have stepped up patrols and made some inroads over the past month with skateboarding, and they made an arrest in a string of burglaries that resulted in some stolen merchandise being returned.

Resident Mark Bittner said he remembers being young and wanting to hang out with his friends late at night. But now, he has became concerned because his car has been scratched, egged and spit on.

"If there is a curfew, this shouldn't be happening," Bittner said. "I wouldn't be complaining if they weren't vandalizing my car."

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