Mayor's security detail: How much is too much?

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In the first six months of this year, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's bodyguards made more money than their boss did. That's one result of the ramped-up security around the city's top executive, who is accompanied by an officer at public, political and personal affairs.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Detective Domenick Sciulli, left, works bodyguard duty with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, right, as the mayor leads staff and community leaders on a walking tour of East Carson Street earlier this month.
Click photo for larger image.

That contrasts starkly with former Mayor Tom Murphy, who had an officer on hand during daylight hours only.

It has precedent, though, in other cities and past administrations.

"I've been instructed through the police department that I am to have an officer with me any time I'm in public," Mr. Ravenstahl said yesterday, even if "that's something perhaps even personal."

The result is a big bill for the city.

The two primary members of Mr. Ravenstahl's security team are each on pace to earn around $100,000, which is a shade more than the mayor's $96,511 salary. Police Chief Nate Harper said they probably won't hit six figures, because vacations and holidays will cut their overtime during the year's second half.

A third officer pitches in part time, and others join the team as needed, meaning the bill for mayoral security could reach $250,000. That represents a significant hike in security costs when compared with the income of Mr. Murphy's lone bodyguard, Patrick Morosetti, who worked little overtime.

Detectives Domenick Sciulli and Fred Crawford each earn annual base salaries of $56,689. Through June, the former had earned $49,977, the latter $53,541, indicating that they are on pace to nearly double their salaries thanks to overtime.

Those earnings don't make those detectives among the top earning city employees -- numerous firefighters and a handful of paramedics earned more through June -- but they do make them the 12th and 29th-best-paid members of the 840-member Police Bureau.

"It does surprise me that somebody is making $100,000 on mayoral security detail," said Robert W. McNeilly Jr., who was the city's chief under Mr. Murphy and now leads Elizabeth Township's department.

"This mayor goes from sometimes 6 in the morning to 1 or 2 [a.m.]," explained Chief Harper.

He said the bureau has 12 officers trained in dignitary protection, and could involve others in the mayor's detail to reduce the overtime bill. But since most are assigned to the witness protection or intelligence units, doing so would hurt the bureau's capabilities in other areas.

Detective Sciulli typically works daylight, and Detective Crawford often starts at 4 p.m. Sometimes they split up the weekend, or a third officer picks it up.

Mr. Ravenstahl said that initially he didn't like constant company. But he got his comeuppance on his eighth day as mayor, after he went unaccompanied to a North Catholic High School Trojans game and a picture of him in the stands ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"I was told by the then-chief [Dominic J. Costa], 'What are you doing? You're the mayor now. You absolutely have to have somebody with you at all times.' "

Since then, he's abided by that dictate.

"There are times when if I do something personal at somebody's home, I'll go with my wife and myself," he said. But if he's out politicking, or grabbing dinner and drinks, he's accompanied.

That's more coverage than Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato demands. Two county detectives whose primary role is the executive's security "basically go with him to public events he attends in his capacity as public executive," said his spokesman, Kevin Evanto.

One works daylight, the other 4 to midnight, but the second officer often peels off to do other duties. Mr. Onorato's guards are each limited to 16 hours of overtime per two-week pay period.

Gov. Ed Rendell's administration would not say how many state troopers work on his security detail, but noted that on Monday, an apparently deranged man with a gun sought access to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. The man was shot and killed by a patrolman.

The state police said the governor and lieutenant governor have 24-hour-a-day security every day, at a cost last year of $2.1 million.

Former Mayor Sophie Masloff had an arrangement similar to Mr. Ravenstahl's.

"You never knew when some outraged citizen would accost you," she explained. She had two officers, one in the morning and one in the evening, and said there "was never substantial overtime."

She said her security coverage was held over from her predecessor, Dick Caliguiri, and that his predecessor, Pete Flaherty, had the same level of manpower.

Under the late Mayor Bob O'Connor, security ramped up. And after his Sept. 1 death, his family had police protection for a short period.

There's big-city precedent for family protection. Shortly after New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani left office, that city assigned two dozen detectives to protecting him, his wife, his ex-wife and his children.

Elsewhere, the use of bodyguards at political events by the mayor of San Jose, Calif., was the subject of a grand jury investigation.

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory drew fire last year for taking on a single, overtime-enriched bodyguard.

"The officer accompanies the mayor to his public events regardless of the time of day," said his spokesman, Jason Barron.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick took heat for keeping what was reportedly a 21-man mayoral security team in place even as the city grappled with budget deficits and cut other jobs.

In Harvey, Ill., a city of just 30,000, Mayor Eric Kellogg took heat for the five armed officers who accompanied him to public events and council meetings.

Chief Harper said he sends two officers along when Mr. Ravenstahl goes to Harrisburg, and he wanted to send protection along on Mr. Ravenstahl's Mexican vacation last week, but the mayor nixed that.

"I don't want anything to happen to the mayor on my watch," said the chief.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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