Pittsburgh councilman releases police job records; groups seek input on new chief

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PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd on Wednesday made public invoices listing hundreds of payments to police from 2009 to 2012 made by businesses employing off-duty officers for security.

Dowd of Highland Park said he posted them online so council members and city residents would know the extent of moonlighting, known as secondary details, within the Police Bureau.

For 2012, he estimated, officers worked 200,000 hours in off-duty jobs compared to 900,000 hours on-duty.

"We as a council and as a community need to begin having a conversation about this," Dowd said. "Do we want police officers to spend 200,000 (hours) a year at bars and restaurants?"

An FBI investigation appears to focus on the money paid by businesses to employ off-duty officers. The city is trying to determine if some of the money went to unauthorized accounts at the police credit union. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl cited the investigation in ousting Police Chief Nate Harper last week.

In 2012, restaurants, bars, construction companies, hotels, shopping malls and event organizers, including the Three Rivers Regatta, paid a combined $6.1 million to police officers working off-duty shifts. Among the more frequent users are bars along East Carson Street in the South Side, where officers can often be seen standing on the front stoop of weekend social hot spots.

Officers generally make about $30 an hour during off-duty assignments, but it varies.

In addition, the city collected a total of $792,189 from a $3.85-an-hour administrative fee applied to each off-duty shift. That money is intended to cover litigation and workers compensation expenses if an off-duty officer is sued or injured while moonlighting.

Questions have arisen about whether a portion of that administrative fee went to two secret Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union accounts that were linked to an unknown number of debit cards issued in the names of Ravenstahl's three police bodyguards and at least two top police officials.

Before Dowd released the reports, community groups gathered in the City-County Building, Downtown, to urge Ravenstahl and council to weigh concerns about racial diversity in the Police Bureau and allegations of corruption when the mayor hires a new chief. Ravenstahl has said acting Police Chief Regina McDonald will serve in the top job during a search for a permanent replacement. He said he wants to hire someone with no connections to the city or department because of the turmoil wrought by the federal investigation.

Tim Stevens, who chairs the Black Political Empowerment Project, said the city needs a chief who is willing to hire more minority and female officers and work on improving relations between the department and residents, particularly those in black neighborhoods.

He said the next chief must adhere to unbiased policing.

"We're in a difficult moment in the history of our city and the history of the Police Bureau," Stevens said. "We have an opportunity to move forward and create a new era in police and community relations that we've never seen before."

ACLU legal director Vic Walczak said there is a tense relationship between the police and the city's African-American community.

"You see widespread police misconduct and you see corruption," Walczak said.

Councilman Ricky Burgess said Wednesday that he won't vote for anyone who is a current or former member of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris also spoke Wednesday and said she hopes the community becomes involved in the search of Harper's replacement.

"It's important that the police and the community work together to make this city a safe place," Harris said.

A public hearing is scheduled for March 6 at 1 p.m.

 

Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.