New police chief chosen

Ravenstahl promotes from within department; first African-American since 1995

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is expected to name Nate Harper as the city's new police chief and Paul Donaldson as his top deputy at a news conference this afternoon.

Civil rights leaders told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Mr. Ravenstahl informed them of the choices yesterday.

Mr. Harper replaces Dominic J. Costa, who retired last month, citing worsening medical problems related to a 2002 bullet wound suffered in a botched hostage standoff. Mr. Ravenstahl interviewed five candidates from within the bureau for the top post, including Acting Chief Donaldson.

Mr. Harper, 53, of Stanton Heights, currently assistant chief in charge of the investigations branch, will be the first African-American chief since Earl Buford, who served in the post from 1992 to 1995. The appointment likely will help address a growing chorus of concern that the city's leadership is not diverse.

Word that Mr. Ravenstahl would pick Mr. Harper has been building for a couple of days.

On Monday evening, the mayor met in the City Council Chamber with Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, and about 20 other community and religious advocates. They went to talk about diversity in the ranks of city government and community policing issues and to urge that Mr. Harper be promoted to chief.

Since the death of the late mayor Bob O'Connor and the resignation of Chief Costa, B-PEP has asked the mayor to consider Mr. Harper.

In a letter to Mr. Ravenstahl, a day after Mr. Costa's resignation, BPEP said, "Issues surrounding the Pittsburgh police remain among the highest of priorities within the African- American community, and among the most sensitive" and the hiring of Mr. Harper "would be an immediate bridge builder, which is so important in this role of both peacemaker, and as the chief protector of the citizens of our city."

During the meeting, Mr. Stevens said, the mayor told the participants they "would not be disappointed in his choice."

Yesterday, the mayor met at Freedom Unlimited in the Hill District with M. Gayle Moss, head of the Pittsburgh NAACP, and the Rev. John C. Welch, head of Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network.

The group met to discuss the future of the Oak Hill development near the University of Pittsburgh.

But most of the conversation revolved around the lack of diversity in management positions in the current administration. The group leaders said there was almost no diversity in the administration of the late Mr. O'Connor and after the firing of then-Chief of Staff B.J. Leber, Solicitor Susan Maile and Finance Director Paul Leger, diversity all but disappeared in high-ranking city positions.

During the meeting, said Mr. Welch, Mr. Ravenstahl told the group that he would appoint Mr. Harper as the city's next police chief.

Mr. Welch said the appointment "marks a positive step in the right direction, though not at all sufficient. We're anticipating more to come."

The two men who will lead the department are contemporaries and neighbors. Mr. Harper joined the bureau in 1977. Acting Chief Donaldson, 55, started a year earlier, and lives a few blocks away.

It was not immediately clear what role Deputy Chief Earl Woodyard would take on. He was Chief Costa's right-hand man.

Fraternal Order of Police President Jim Malloy hailed the choices.

"I've known both of them for many, many years," he said. "I'm very, very pleased with the mayor's selection ... I couldn't pick two better guys to manage this department than those two fellows."

He said the department's main challenge under new leadership "will be to get the manpower that we need to get the manpower back to 900."

The bureau is struggling to boost its ranks from around 845 uniformed officers, addressing years of understaffing with a hoped-for influx of 70 recruits through next year.

"I think [Mr. Harper] will be a good choice," said Cmdr. Philip Dacey of the East Liberty station. "He's got a lot of experience. He's popular with the troops."

"Nate's a rock-solid guy. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the bureau to say anything bad about him," said Joseph Meyers, a homicide detective.

The nomination is subject to City Council confirmation. The chief is paid $92,285, and his deputy makes $87,174. Both are slated for 2.5 percent raises next year.

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Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542. Ervin Dyer can be reached at or 412-263-1410.


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