County Police to Help Patrol Efforts in Downtown Pittsburgh

Feb. 7, 2023
Allegheny County police officers "are providing assistance with patrolling" in Pittsburgh's downtown area as the city deals with concerns over safety and violence.

By Mark Belko

Source Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

About a week after Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald offered the assistance, county police officers have moved into Downtown to help with patrols amid concerns about safety and violence.

In a statement Monday, county police Superintendent Christopher Kearns said that his officers "are providing assistance with patrolling the Downtown area.

"We are coordinating with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and Port Authority Police. Uniformed officers in marked patrol cars will be working in the central business district. The times and number of officers will vary," he said.

Cara Cruz, a spokeswoman for the city's Public Safety Department, confirmed that county police are involved in patrols in Downtown, but deferred to the county in terms of operational details.

Maria Montano, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Gainey, could not be reached for comment.

County police are being deployed in the Golden Triangle about a week after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Mr. Fitzgerald had offered to do so to supplement the work being done by city police.

At the time, Mr. Gainey was believed to be considering the proposal. On Thursday, the mayor offered his own plan to address safety, including a tripling of the number of city police officers in Downtown.

He gave no timetable for implementing the plan, which also included a number of other initiatives such as police-led safety trainings for Downtown employees and residents, increased trash pickups, and establishing collaboration between all law enforcement and security forces.

The measures are aimed at addressing mounting concerns from Downtown stakeholders about safety and unruly behavior. Some fear the issues could drive away office or residential tenants or stop people from visiting to eat, attend shows, or shop.

Joseph Orlando, owner of Joseph Orlando Clothiers on Wood Street, welcomed the county police contingent in Downtown.

"Look, I'm all for it. Bring in the FBI, the cavalry, everything, to clean it up," he said. "I think it's imperative that we do that."

He also is supportive of Mr. Gainey's plan to triple the number of city officers in the central business district.

"As long as he has the manpower to do it, I'm 100% for it. People will feel more comfortable if they see a police presence instead of feeling vulnerable with no police presence," he said.

John Valentine, executive director of the Downtown Neighbors Alliance, also praised the move.

"It's really great to see how Downtown's progressing and it seems like we're all working together," he said.

Police union questions

One who isn't happy with the decision is Robert Swartzwelder, president of the union representing rank-and-file city police officers.

He said he intends to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the city. He accused Mr. Gainey of "union busting" and doing an end run around the labor agreement with his members. He maintained the mayor has refused to hire or speed up the hiring of more city officers.

In a letter to Downtown stakeholders last week, Mr. Gainey stated that his administration has budgeted for and plans to run two police training classes this year to add to the force.

Mr. Swartzwelder said the city is currently down about 100 officers. During a City Council post-agenda discussion on policing last week, it was reported that the number of officers on the force has dropped to 818.

Subtracting out chiefs and commanders, most of whom are not on regular patrols, and officers working in other administrative positions, there are fewer than 800 officers on the street.

The police department, meanwhile, is budgeted to have 900 officers. So far this year, 17 officers have left. Mr. Swartzwelder said Monday the city will continue to lose them because it doesn't pay as well as the suburbs.

"We're essentially just a farm club for municipalities surrounding us," he said.

Mr. Swartzwelder said he has been told that one county police sergeant and four county officers were assigned to Downtown on Monday.

The Gainey administration, he added, has not discussed the situation with him or others in union leadership even though it is obligated to do so before it subcontracts out any work.

He also questioned the motives, noting that county police weren't called in last spring when there were problems on the South Side.

"When officers are working quadruple shifts and not allowed to go home to their families because we're so short-staffed, where's all the help for that?" he asked.

The union president said he might be agreeable to the county police contingent in Downtown if the city police bureau were fully staffed and it was an emergency.

"Right now, you're not in an emergency situation, you're in a political one," he said. "Why are officers sent Downtown rather than to other areas with a high crime rate?"

Mr. Swartzwelder wondered who would be paying the officers, the city or the county, and who would be responsible for workers' compensation if a county officer is injured while patrolling Downtown.

In addition, the county officers should be subject to the same oversight from the office of municipal investigations and the citizens police review board as their city counterparts, he said.

Mr. Swartzwelder expressed skepticism about the value of Mr. Gainey's vow to triple the number of city officers in Downtown, saying that typically only two to four officers are sent to patrol there right now. Tripling the number might not result in a big increase.

"It's relative," he said. "If somebody spouts that off, what does that really mean?"

Downtown safety center

In a statement last week in response to Mr. Gainey's pledge to add more officers, the city police bureau said that it is creating a dedicated Downtown public safety center that will operate "semi-autonomously" under the Zone 2 commander.

The officers will patrol Downtown primarily on foot and bicycle while having access to police vehicles and will be operate out of the substation at 600 Liberty Ave.

"The center will operate seven days a week with two overlapping shifts, effectively tripling the presence of officers during peak hours," it stated.

"The DPSC will employ a relationship-based policing strategy that seeks to capitalize on partnerships to increase public safety in the central business district."

Beyond the patrols and policing, the officers "will be community engagement-oriented, fostering partnerships with all Downtown stakeholders."

Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, has said his understanding is that Mr. Gainey plans to triple the number of officers in the Golden Triangle based on current police bureau staffing levels.


(c)2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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