Managing the Heat | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Managing the Heat

Our write-in candidate -- a bobblehead pierogie -- talks public safety

If anything could get Luke Ravenstahl burned, public safety might be it. This is the mayor who had an altercation with police outside a Steelers game in 2005, and things haven't gotten much better since. Last year, Ravenstahl tried to install political insider Denny Regan as the head of public safety -- despite Regan's lack of experience, and his apparent penchant for running roughshod over female commanders. Resulting legal action will costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Things have quieted down some, but take a pierogie's word for this: Even when the water is merely simmering, you can still get cooked. How would I approach public safety?

Make diversity a priority. Our public-safety bureau has gotten whiter than a Polish church social. The current class of police recruits, for example, has 24 white cadets and only 1 African American; things at the fire academy are almost as bad. In a city nearly one-third black, that's a community-relations disaster. Pittsburgh was once under court order to hire women and minorities, and we found applicants back then -- we should be able to do so now. I'd enhance efforts to reach out to women and minorities, with outreach to churches and other community groups. Also, we need to think seriously about hiring our first female police chief. Since half the command staff is female, this could have happened already.

Put to rest questions about the death of Jerry Jackson. Sounds like ancient history, but Pittsburgh is still haunted by Jackson's 1995 death at the hands of a Housing Authority officer. Activists have called on the district attorney to investigate a potential cover-up effort by police brass, and the Citizen Police Review Board may hold a forum to examine whether procedures were skirted -- and whether they should be tightened. Those investigations need to happen. Previous federal consent decrees have focused on officers in the streets; we need to look at the people who supervise them. Especially when their names keep appearing in headlines.

Tighten rules governing off-duty police work. There's been a lot said about the off-duty details worked by police at sporting events, bars, and elsewhere. Those hosting the events are renting out the authority of the police uniform. But while the officer gets paid for wearing it, the city pays the bills if someone gets hurt or sued. Mayor Ravenstahl has proposed a flat $3.85/hour surcharge on the use of off-duty police officers. I'd replace that with a flat 10 percent levy on the officer's hourly wage. That'd help keep pace with inflation, and with what organizations actually pay. I'd also go Ravenstahl one better by insisting all off-duty assignments be handled directly by the city, rather than by middle-men who handle some assignments now.

Explore creating an auxiliary police force. Cities of all sizes, including New York City, use an auxiliary police force of volunteers to boost public safety. The duties, power, and training of volunteers varies widely. But at a minimum, auxiliary police can help with duties like traffic control at parades, which would help reduce overtime costs. City neighborhoods miss seeing the beat cops we used to have, but can no longer afford; this program won't restore those officers, but it could help put "community" back in community policing.

Even without training, these volunteers know as much about policing as Denny Regan -- and he was nearly put in charge of the whole department!

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty
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Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty

By Mars Johnson