Pittsburgh details change in off-duty police pay

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Pittsburgh's top public safety official Tuesday unveiled a series of changes meant to address problems that have come to light this year involving the police bureau and how it handles money and off-duty work.

Moonlighting jobs will now be coordinated with a private company rather than the police bureau, which came under scrutiny amid a federal investigation into misappropriation of funds.

New restrictions will prohibit officers from being paid in cash for their off-duty work and will cap the number of hours they can work based on their seniority. They also will standardize the rate of pay for off-duty work.

"This is a big win for both sides because it fixes the problems and reforms the entire process without a lengthy court battle," public safety director Michael Huss said, emphasizing that he had met with police union officials numerous times over the last year.

But he might be in for a problem. Mr. Huss said he plans to put the new policy in place Friday, but the police union president said the union has 15 days to review new policies before they go into effect.

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Informed of the changes by a reporter Tuesday night, Sgt. Michael LaPorte said in a text message: "Can't happen." He said the union will consider filing a grievance if the bureau tries to implement the changes without the proper notification.

Mr. Huss would not provide a full copy of the new 14-page policy, saying that doing so would violate city rules, but described Tuesday what he sees as the highlights.

Under the new policy, a North Carolina-based company called Cover Your Assets will help facilitate some of the scheduling for officer moonlighting assignments, known as details.

The city has long worked with Cover Your Assets, but city council recently authorized a contract that would expand the scope of the company's work.

Mr. Huss said that under the new policy, businesses will work with Cover Your Assets, which will do some work out of a Ross Street office, to schedule officers for the details. Cover Your Assets will send invoices to the businesses, which will then send checks to the city treasurer's office.

In three to five weeks, the city's financial software should be linked with the Cover Your Assets system, allowing both groups to see the invoices and checks that have been deposited, he said.

Asked who would reconcile the checks and the invoices, Mr. Huss said, "Surely, the controller's office should be auditing it all. My office will be responsible for making sure the invoice comes back. You can put that responsibility on me. The controller has a responsibility to audit this stuff as well."

City Controller Michael Lamb said Tuesday that his office will audit the money coming in from secondary employment every other year since it is being deposited into a trust fund, but the day-to-day reconciliation is the duty of the treasurer's office and the city Finance Department. Finance director Scott Kunka did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

City officials, including Mr. Lamb, have said in the past that poor accounting enabled fraud in the bureau.

Former police Chief Nate Harper pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy and failure to file income tax returns after federal prosecutors said he and others in the bureau diverted more than $70,000 into off-the-books accounts and Mr. Harper used about $30,000 of that money on himself.

In that case, prosecutors said, businesses sent money to pay for off-duty officers to the police bureau's Special Events Office, which walked the checks across the hall to the bureau's personnel and finance office, where Mr. Harper and unnamed others diverted the checks.

City officials have said there was not a clear system at that time for reconciling the checks with the invoices.

Several other problems came to light this year about the bureau's system for scheduling off-duty work.

Mr. Huss said, "Officers were taking cash and were not reporting it. ... The last thing I want to see is them taking cash off of bar owners from a register. To the extent it happened, I can't tell you."

As a result, he said he will prohibit officers from receiving cash payments for working details -- for which they will now all be paid the same rate -- and will instead require businesses to pay them by sending checks to the city.

Officers won the right to receive cash for the off-duty work in arbitration several years ago and were expected to report that income.

Schedulers also proved controversial both within the police bureau and for its critics.

Under the current system, businesses can choose to have one officer, known as a scheduler, work with them to hire other officers to work at their establishment.

The schedulers enjoyed first pick at shifts working at the businesses for whom they coordinated off-duty work. Mr. Huss said some but not all of the 80-some schedulers receive a fee for their services.

He said schedulers will be replaced with coordinators, who will serve the same function but can't receive payment for their coordinating services and must be approved by the public safety director or his designee, in this case the acting police chief.

Mr. Huss said he expects to implement a new policy by Dec. 1 that will outline the rules under which police officers may operate side businesses, as Mr. Harper did with several subordinates until the federal investigation began to unravel.

That policy will prohibit officers from working in private security or as private investigators.

"I have a whole bunch of guys in blue that aren't going to be happy," Mr. Huss said. The new policy, he said, "goes a long way in cleaning up many of the things that were broken."

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Moriah Balingit contributed.


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