Study recommends pulling 188 Pittsburgh officers from patrol, noting "excessively high staffing levels" | Pittsburgh City Paper

Study recommends pulling 188 Pittsburgh officers from patrol, noting "excessively high staffing levels"

click to enlarge Study recommends pulling 188 Pittsburgh officers from patrol, noting "excessively high staffing levels"
CP Photo: Jamie Wiggan
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey introduces new police staffing report during a July 19 press conference.
A study on police staffing commissioned by the city of Pittsburgh recommends sweeping changes, but it’s unclear to what extent the new chief wants to run with them.

The study, commissioned last year by the mayor's office, claims the city’s patrolling division is “excessively” overstaffed. The finding stands in sharp contrast to years of complaints that officers are overworked and under-resourced.

To better align resources with needs, the Matrix Consulting Group report recommends reallocating 188 officers from patrol to other units such as community resourcing, investigations, and violent crime. It also calls for a team of civilians trained in community service to respond to various kinds of non-emergency calls.

During a press conference today, Chief Larry Scirotto referred to the report as a “great document for any new changes,” while pointing out he wasn’t sold on all the conclusions.

“There are things that I strongly agree with and there are a few things that I disagree with,” Scirotto said. “Where I disagree, we will make the best decisions for the Bureau in our community. Where I agree, we'll make sure that’s implemented.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey was similarly guarded, speaking of the report as “a blueprint that can be changed.”

“This is just a document that we had that puts us in a direction to get us to where we want to go,” he added.

The suggestion to reduce the number of patrolling officers came as a shock to the department’s rank-and-file, who have frequently voiced strong feelings to the contrary.

“The actual findings of the report do not represent the practical experiences of the officers, as noted in the survey portion of the report,” Pittsburgh’s Fraternal Order of Police President, Robert Swartzwelder, told Pittsburgh City Paper after the press conference. “If we’re exceptionally overstaffed, why did you force 22 officers to work a double shift yesterday and today?”

The survey Swartzwelder referenced found that concerns about inadequate staffing ranked highest among the responses in an open-ended survey. Fixed questions about the staffing structure also pointed to serious morale concerns and distrust in leadership.

Just 14% of respondents agreed with the statement “the city’s leadership supports the Bureau” and 11% accepted “the department is headed in the right direction.” The survey was conducted in September 2022.

In response, Gainey said he was aware of low morale when his administration took over but argued that headway had been made by meeting with officers at the different divisions.

“I think that they're beginning to see that they are supported,” Gainey said.

Gainey talked extensively about police reform during his 2021 mayoral bid, calling particular attention to reports of over-policing in Black communities. But since taking office 18 months ago, he has refrained from making sweeping changes and recently pledged to boost police presence Downtown.

Scirotto was recently appointed as the city's police chief following a short stint in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., from where he was terminated after six months, following accusations that his hiring policies encouraged "reverse racism." During a conference announcing his Pittsburgh appointment in May, Scirotto affirmed his commitments both to diversity and staff excellence.

Both Gainey and Scirotto said today that they believe the force should retain its existing target complement of 900 — although it is currently staffed at around 800 due to vacancies.

Scirotto indicated he did not support reallocating officers from patrols as recommended in the report, saying he wants the department to continue meeting the quick response, which the study calls “exceptional.”

“We're not seeking to hit that baseline. We're seeking excellence,” Scirotto said. “That 900 [officer] budget staffing is adequate to create excellent policing services.”

Asked about the areas in the report with which Scirotto most agreed, he pointed to its recommendation for developing civilian responders.

“It's not in place of our officers,” Scirotto said. “It's to complement our officers. That allows the people that we train and aim and equip to respond to police issues — those three categories that we say are so important to this city — reduction of violent crime, specifically gun violence, community police partnerships, and our quality of life issues, and then allow the civilians to sit in those roles and focus on those nonessential police calls, whether it's accidents, traffic complaints, report writing, things that can be handled much more efficiently with civilian personnel."

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By Mars Johnson