City council passes budget despite concerns over number of police

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The city's 2013 budget does not put enough police officers on the streets and may be deliberately understaffing other departments, too, Councilman Patrick Dowd said Monday, injecting last-minute controversy into an otherwise staid budget process.

Mr. Dowd took concerns about the department's recruitment and racial makeup in a new direction by suggesting that the need for more officers warranted rejection of the budget.

Although other members echoed his concerns, Mr. Dowd was the only council member to vote against final approval of a no-tax-increase $470 million operating budget and $65 million capital budget.

Sgt. Michael LaPorte, police union president, could not be reached for comment.

The 2013 budget calls for a uniformed complement of 892, including Chief Nathan Harper -- the same number budgeted this year.

The size of the police bureau wasn't available Monday, but the complement on March 12 was 870, according to the department's annual public report.

Mr. Dowd said the complement should be maintained at 950 each day.

He said the handful of officers assigned to cover a night shift in Zone 5, encompassing 13 East End neighborhoods, sometimes is diminished by diversion of officers to special events Downtown.

The size of the force was cut before Mayor Luke Ravenstahl took office in 2006, spokeswoman Joanna Doven said. Since then, she said, the city has boosted officer recruitment efforts, increased the use of security cameras citywide and made upgrades to police cars and equipment.

Overall, she said, the city has tried to "do more with less" in various departments and left some posts unfilled.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said suburban municipalities lure officers with higher pay and what officers consider more attractive schools. City officers' salaries next year will range from $41,714 for a first-year officer to about $106,000 for Chief Harper.

Although council members said they would like to see more officers on the streets, Pittsburgh has a larger complement than some cities of roughly similar size. Lexington, Ky., for example, has an authorized complement of 535, but is operating about 30 officers under that now, police department spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

Corpus Christi, Texas, has about 410 police officers, although it has been authorized to keep 451 on its payroll. Senior Officer Kirk Stowers said the department has contracted with a staffing consultant to evaluate whether its police force is adequate.

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Moriah Balingit contributed. Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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