One-on-one interview with new acting Police Chief Larry Scirotto

PITTSBURGH — Acting Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto’s nomination to become the next police chief will go before the Pittsburgh city council on Tuesday morning. Scirotto will likely be confirmed to become the city’s next police chief, succeeding Scott Schubert, who retired last summer and is now working for the FBI.

Channel 11′s Rick Earle sat down with Scirotto for a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview.

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Earle asked Scirotto about the manpower shortage facing the bureau.

The department is budgeted for 900 officers, but the number currently has dropped to around 800.

Officers have retired or resigned and there have been no new academy classes for more than two years.

A new academy class is set for July and another one is scheduled for November.

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Still, Scirotto told Earle he believes that the bureau has enough officers to do the job.

“I think we are adequately staffed to keep the city of Pittsburgh and its citizens safe,” said Scirotto, who added that it will take some creativity to deal with the low numbers.

Scirotto said he’s re-evaluating every unit in the bureau in an effort to get more manpower back in patrol and out on the streets.

He said that’s the bureau’s primary mission.

He said that will likely mean cutbacks to some of the specialty units, like the mounted police.

A mounted police officer just retired last week, leaving one officer left in that unit.

“I’m not sure we have the resource allocation for it to be the primary responsibility of 6 to eight officers,” said Scirotto.

City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, while interviewing Scirotto publicly last week, raised concerns about the unit being disbanded.

She said the horses play a much-needed role in the city responding to large events and protests.

Scirotto also said he’s considering hiring civilians to do some of the jobs now held by officers, like running the property room or answering phones at the zone stations.

He said that would free up officers to return to patrol.

He also said officers are spending too much time responding to non-priority calls such as parking complaints and burglary alarms.

He suggested parking complaints would be better handled by the parking authority.

While the city already has a telephone reporting system for minor complaints, Scirotto said he will implement an online reporting system for residents to file reports for incidents such as thefts.

He said that will also free up more officers to concentrate on violent crime.

As for violent crime, Scirotto has ordered units to be visible in an area for the first 48 hours after a shooting or violent incident.

And he said non-priority calls will be put on hold so those officers can concentrate on the violent crime.

“We’re working toward preventing the next shooting and being visible being available, being accessible so we have that community calming effect,” said Scirotto.

In an effort to reduce crime and track down offenders, Scirotto supports the use of hi-tech tools, like cameras, license plate readers, and even drones.

The city bought two drones several years ago but never used them because of privacy concerns.

The public safety director told Earle months ago that the city was still working on a policy for using them, but once that’s done they would be deployed.

That still has not happened, and last week the city had to bring in drones from the Sheriff’s department when searching for a suspect who took off from police in Mt. Washington.

Scirotto supports the use of drones, and he said there’s a way to use them but it must be transparent for the public to see.

“The accountability after its use and its outward reporting to our community is important so that they believe our motives are pure and we are not using this technology for nefarious means,” said Scirotto.

Scirotto also weighed in on the controversy over minor traffic stops.

City council had banned them, citing data that minorities were being disproportionately targeted, but earlier this year the department ordered officer to begin enforcing them again.

Scirotto said the department will follow the council’s directive.

“It’s the ordinance that they created and the legislative body that I report to as well as the mayor’s office so if that is the legislation. they want us to enforce then will enforce it,” said Scirotto.

He did indicate that if it would impact the Bureau’s accreditation that he would then have to let council decide whether the ordinance is more important than accreditation.

Scirotto also had a strong message for anyone considering resorting to violence.

“It’s not just arrest, arrest, and arrest. There are alternatives and we will give you options, but for those that chose not to take them, you will get the full pressure of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and our criminal justice partners,” said Scirotto.

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