This week Pittsburgh City Council affirmatively recommended an agreement between the city's public safety department and Cover Your Assets Inc., a software company that helps manage secondary employment for police officers. The resolution would authorize the city to pay CYA $175,000 for another year of service beginning Nov. 1.
While council unanimously recommended the resolution, it did spark questions about secondary employment within the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The bureau manages jobs police officers perform outside of their daily work such as providing security at construction sites, bars and restaurants.
"The money is only going to the scheduling of the officers, but nothing is allocated to any kind of specific or specialized training of the officer to perhaps understand how to do secondary detail in a nightlife district or to do secondary detail in a construction site," said Council President Bruce Kraus. "I'm not sure how officers are given the proper training and equipment to do the secondary detail jobs that we provide for them."
Secondary employment has been subject to criticism over the years, most notably when it was involved in a 2013 FBI probe
that looked into operations at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Critics have also claimed some officers were receiving preferential treatment by being given more off-duty employment opportunities than others.
"In our contract, officers have the right to secondary employment, but the department can define secondary employment so I'd like to have a better understanding of what secondary employment is defined as now and what it could possibly look like in the future," Kraus said. "We have a contract coming up, and what progress have we made to understanding what I believe to be a conflict of interest to have officers doing secondary detail at licensed establishments,be they alcohol gaming or adult entertainment?"
The new system with Cover Your Assets was put in place to address some of the prior criticism of secondary employment. But Councilor Dan Gilman said he's received complaints about the new system from community groups seeking to hire officers for their events.
"We had a number of incidents last year where no officers would show either because they hadn't signed up or got sick, or got held for overtime, all legitimate reasons. But then you're stuck, and it's five minutes before the event," said Gilman. "You don't have the safety you need for the public, and getting a hold of CYA was difficult."
These are issues the police bureau is working on, said Assistant Police Chief Thomas Stangrecki, who currently oversees the special events office in charge of secondary employment.
"There's a lot of work out there and needs for additional officers," Stangrecki said. "And a lot of times jobs aren't posted enough in advance for officers to look at them."
In 2013, after secondary employment received negative attention, administration of the special events office was changed. Stangrecki says officers who were handling secondary employment were transferred, and leadership was transferred to a supervisor who didn't have experience handling secondary employment.
"Regrettably there were some growing pains," Stangrecki said. "We've made a lot of progress along the way. The office is still changing, so we're constantly training new people. We're hoping to get some people who will be there for a while, to make sure details are filled and work through issues like whether to give a refund or not."
Kraus said he will arrange a briefing on the system and secondary employment prior to council's final vote on the resolution on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
"I fully recognize the need for a change from the past. It seems like this headed in the right direction. I also am very understanding that there are growing pains associated with it as new people learn new roles. But at $175,000, I also certainly expect a pretty good software package. That's more than many of the software packages in the city," Gilman said. "I'm certainly happy to support another year, but if this is the permanent solution, I'd like a more in-depth understanding. I think we share a common endgame, but I'm not 100 percent convinced that this is the best path to this end game."
As a supporter of secondary employment, Councilor Darlene Harris noted that the software system would not come at a cost to taxpayers because funding for the administration of off-duty jobs comes from fees billed to clients. For example, the city collects $4.38 per hour for every job and $25 per hour for police vehicle use.
"It's not coming out of taxpayer dollars anymore. It's coming from those who are utilizing our police force," said Harris. "I'm glad we got the program to the point where it's not costing tax payers anything and they are benefiting from it."