Pittsburgh City Council pushes for police, finance changes

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Two Pittsburgh city councilwomen sponsored legislation today attempting to address some of the woes facing the embattled bureau of police, which continues to operate under the cloud of an FBI investigation.

In the wake of criticism of the bureau's handling of finances, Council President Darlene Harris sponsored three bills this morning that would lead to an overhaul of the city's cash management policies.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith also introduced legislation that would trigger hiring in the bureau when the force's staffing dipped below a specific number, yet to be set. She believes it will trigger hiring in the bureau.

Both sets of bills were fast-tracked, meaning they will be discussed Wednesday and put up for final votes next Tuesday.

The police bureau is under scrutiny following revelations of an FBI investigation that targets the personnel and finance offices, according to acting Chief Regina McDonald. Controller Michael Lamb also has criticized the bureau's special events office, which organizes private security jobs for officers, saying the accounting of the money they receive for officer wages is inaccurate and may have obscured potential theft.

In a news release, Ms. Harris, who recently entered the mayor's race, said that nearly every department in the city lacks a cash management policy.

The first of the three bills directs Mr. Lamb to study cash management policies in departments that receive outside revenue. The second authorizes the city to pay an outside firm up to $20,000 to study what the controller finds and make recommendations for new policies.

The final bill deals with the cost recovery fee, a surcharge the special events office bills businesses who employ police officers on security jobs. The bill would formally establish the rate of $3.85 per officer per hour as a management fee.

Ms. Kail-Smith introduced legislation last week that would put all or part of the money handled by the special events office into a trust fund to ensure it is accounted for accurately.

Ms. Kail-Smith, the chair of the public safety committee, said she sponsored today's legislation because the bureau is often budgeted for far more officers than it is able to recruit, train and hire.

She said she was meeting with officials from the bureau and from the police union to discuss the scope of the policy, like whether it should mandate a certain number of officers per zone.

Asked if the city could afford training additional cadets, she said it couldn't afford not to.

"If an officer is hurt or a resident is hurt because of our low staffing, I'm certain that [the cost of losing] any litigation would be greater," she said.

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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