11 Investigates Exclusive: Rookie officers staffing special events, in violation of general order

PITTSBURGH — It’s a huge weekend in Pittsburgh with the Kenny Chesney concert, the Three Rivers Arts Festival and Pride festivities on the North Shore.

But could a move to staff these big events with less experienced police officers lead to trouble?

11 investigates has exclusively learned the police staffing shortage has prompted a controversial change in the way police cover these special events.

The 24 recruits graduated from the Pittsburgh Police Academy in March.

Since then, they’ve been in field training with veteran officers learning the ropes.

But 11 investigates has learned some of them have been allowed to work secondary employment to cover events, like the Marathon and the Rush to Crush Cancer walk on the North Shore earlier this month.

That prompted a stern warning from a supervisor at the training academy, stating that it’s a violation of the Police Bureau’s General Order.

The supervisor writing in an email to the rookie officers”...a police officer must be in good standing and have completed twelve months from their date of hire with the PBP,” in order to work secondary details.

“Although you have been ordered to work details while you are still in training....I will not violate the general orders...please focus on field training in your zones instead of working details,” stated the supervisor.

“Somewhere, somehow, somebody has authorized, ineligible officers to perform and engage in secondary detail,” said Beth Pittinger, the Executive Director of the Citizen Police Review Board.

Pittinger expressed concern about the mixed messages to the rookie officers and the potential liability.

“We’re also taking on an extreme liability. If something goes sideways with one of these officers, what a liability we’re taking on.  They’re not supposed to be doing this, and they are,” said Pittinger.

But a police spokesperson defended the decision to use the new officers, saying in an email that the Chief “has the discretion to amend general orders as necessary to meet organizational needs or objectives.”

The President of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents officers in the city fired back, claiming they were left in the dark about the use of rookie officers.

“The FOP is totally unaware of the change in policy allowing recruits to work secondary employment. The City and the Chief are obligated to provide those changes and allow the FOP to meet and discuss those changes,” said FOP President Bob Swartzwelder.

With a shortage of officers, the department has struggled to staff many of these larger events.

And sources told 11 Investigates that this led to the decision to use these new officers.

And with so many events this weekend, those officers will likely be out there again, working these events.

Pittinger said there are alternatives and she suggested the Bureau could use officers from Allegheny County Police, the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department and other nearby law enforcement agencies to staff special events

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