Mayor Ed Gainey unveiled a long-awaited study of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s staffing levels Wednesday, revealing research he has repeatedly said he needs to see before making major changes to the force. The 175-page report recommends drastically reducing the city’s number of patrol officers, but at Wednesday’s press conference, Gainey’s new Police Chief Larry Scirotto said he disagrees with that suggestion.
“This gives a new chief a great road map to start with,” Gainey said. Neither Scirotto or Gainey clarified which of the report’s many suggestions would eventually be implemented. Gainey called the report, from California-based Matrix Consulting, a “blueprint that can be changed.”
The consultants found that the bureau’s patrol officer’s have 71% of their available hours left over after calls for service are handled — far above the 50% level they recommend. They urged the city to shift 188 budgeted positions out of patrol ranks and into a number of more specialized and community-facing roles. The city currently budgets for 463 patrol officers, though a number of those positions are vacant.
The report’s authors and more than 600 officers who responded to their survey last year agreed that the bureau provides exceptionally good response to calls for service. The consultants say that service would not be diminished by slashing patrol ranks.
“PBP has a rare, if not unique, opportunity to achieve a community-centric level of service that other police agencies do not have the resources to accomplish,” the authors wrote.
Despite report, 900 officers still the goal
While Gainey has said he wants to make the police more community-focused since he began campaigning for mayor, his new chief flatly rejected the consultants’ view of how to accomplish that on Wednesday.
The consultants called for a large increase in community resource officers, from 12 to 45, plus a new group of civilian responders for non-emergency calls.
“I’m committed that all 900 men and women in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police are community police specialists,” Scirotto said, explaining his disagreement with that proposal to shift officers from patrol units and into community resource roles.
The consultants’ survey of officers found that understaffing was their top concern and most felt they didn’t have enough work hours to police proactively outside of responding to calls. Scirotto, conversely, said the bureau’s staffing levels “aren’t in crisis.”
Gainey, Scirotto and Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt each emphasized that neither they nor the consultants would suggest changing the overall size of the police bureau — which for decades has been budgeted at 900 employees.
“[The study] shows we have the right amount,” Schmidt said. “It’s a matter of where those officers are placed that we need to take a look at.”
The head of the police officers’ union said Wednesday the bureau currently has 781 uniformed employees.
Union: ‘Overstaffed’ finding at odds with reality
Officer Robert Swartzwelder, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police local that represents Pittsburgh officers, said that some of the data used in the report differed from data he had access to. He questioned the report’s finding of overstaffing, saying that frequent mandatory overtime and administration rejection of time-off requests would indicate otherwise.
“One of two things is happening here,” Swartzwelder said. “Either the report is invalid, or the command is not properly deploying its force.”
Swartzwelder has said repeatedly in comments to City Council and in media interviews that the city badly needs to recruit more officers to offset retirements, or it will face a crime wave. Several city council members, including Council President Theresa Kail-Smith and other senior members, echoed his call, and Gainey began the process of training two recruit classes last year — before he saw the results of the staffing study.
A number of recruits are in the training process currently, and that will continue, officials said.
Swartzwelder said city’s officer count has fallen since the consultants did their work last year, though his current count of available patrol officers — 314 — is still higher than the number the consultants recommend.
City Council unanimously approved payment of $180,000 to Matrix for the study last year.
Kail-Smith told PublicSource early Wednesday she had yet to read the full 175-page document but she was already skeptical. “I’ve never been a fan of any of these studies, because they generally seem to accomplish what the person paying for it wants to accomplish,” she said.
Anthony Coghill, council’s public safety chair, said he is open to reorganizing the force but his top concern is still the overall personnel numbers, which he thinks are too low.
Matrix’s survey found that officers overwhelmingly feel that the bureau is not “heading in the right direction,” that they don’t have sufficient staff and that city leadership doesn’t support them. Nonetheless, 61% of officers said that the bureau provides “a high level of service” to residents.
Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.
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