This column specializes in offering advice no one pays attention to, and often they have good reason to ignore it. If City Councilor Bill Peduto listened to my campaign advice earlier this year, for example, he’d be wearing a Che Guevera beret and preaching revolution. Instead, he’s spent recent days blaming anarchist groups for vandalism on the basis of little evidence. It may not be fair, but it’s politically more astute.
Still, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl would probably be better off if he had followed a bit of counsel offered here last October:
“Here’s a tip: If you want to prove you are your own man … hire a woman as [police] chief. ... If you want to rein in the cowboys, it can’t hurt to hire a few more girls.”
Yeah, well. Ravenstahl named a male, Nate Harper, as chief instead. Not long afterward, one of those female commanders, Catherine McNeilly, was demoted after accusing Ravenstahl aide Dennis Regan of meddling in police discipline. McNeilly’s allegation didn’t hold up in a court, but a federal judge did order that she be reinstated. And there was ample testimony that Regan had threatened another female police commander, Rashall Brackney, if she didn’t cut some slack to an ally of the late Bob O’Connor.
Regan was canned last year. But it seems there’s still a place for men accused of bullying women — and worse.
As you’ve no doubt heard, Harper recently promoted three officers whose own domestic lives have attracted police attention. George Trosky, recently promoted from detective to commander, was accused of breaking his wife’s nose in 1997. Charles Rodriguez was promoted to lieutenant, even though he’s facing an assault charge for an altercation involving his daughter. Meanwhile, police have twice been called to the home of newly promoted Sergeant Eugene Hlavac during arguments with his girlfriend.
To make things worse, Harper rewrote the rules on Trosky’s behalf; thanks to changes Harper sought to civil-service rules last year, Trosky was hired over the heads of dozens of sergeants and lieutenants.
Not surprisingly, the promotions were widely seen as a slap in the face to every officer who didn’t slap a spouse in the face … and to women everywhere. A special public hearing on the promotions is now scheduled for June 28, and police officials have been reeling at the controversy.
“I’m asking the public to give us a chance,” Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson pled during a June 21 press conference.
That might be easier if the public had been given a chance to see the evidence before learning of the promotions. But Trosky was never tried on the 1997 charges; his wife didn’t show up at the hearing. Rodriguez hasn’t even faced his charges yet.
That’s unfair to everyone, including Rodriguez himself. If the charges are dismissed, he will have suffered through this lime-lit limbo unfairly. And the scrutiny will be only greater in light of the nationally publicized murder of Jessie Davis, a pregnant mother in Ohio. The suspect charged in the case is a Canton police officer with his own history of abuse allegations. In 1998, Bobby Cutts pled “no contest” to charges that he forced his way inside a girlfriend’s home. He was hired by the Canton Police two years later anyway.
I’m not suggesting these Pittsburgh officers would ever commit such an act (or even that Cutts did, since he hasn’t been tried). Over the past decade, Trosky has become a highly decorated officer: Whatever mistakes he and the others might have made, they have a list of accomplishments to point to as well. The problem is, you can’t say that of the administration that promoted them.
When you see the Jessie Davis story on the evening news, you want to be able to say, “At least that could never happen here.” You want to believe that even if the police can’t always keep abusers off the streets, they can bar them from their own ranks. That belief, really, is the only reason to give Donaldson the chance he wants.
But why should we give him that chance, when his bosses first bent the rules to punish women, and now rewrite the rules to benefit men? What sign has this administration ever given that it takes women seriously?
So here’s my advice to Ravenstahl now: Give people a tangible reason to trust your judgment. Now. You owe it to your city and your police officers — including the ones you just promoted.