Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is seeking a legal expert to study police policies on outside work, in the wake of Police Chief Nate Harper co-founding a private security consulting firm with subordinates last year.
Mr. Harper formed Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC in February 2012 with four underlings. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said there was nothing illegal in the act but questioned why it was formed while the officers were still working for the police bureau.
Mr. Ravenstahl agreed.
"It doesn't appear there's anything illegal there, but that being said, I'm not happy with the situation," the mayor told reporters this afternoon. "Needless to say when you have a police chief who's in business with his subordinates, it's not acceptable. So what I've asked the solicitor to do is contact and reach out to somebody outside of city government, to retain their expertise to come in and take a look at the policies and procedures of the police bureau. At this point it appears nothing was done illegal, but I'm not satisfied. This doesn't, from my perspective, fall in line with what those people should be doing and again we need to tighten up the policies and procedures and reform them."
The chief's involvement in a private security startup comes after more than a year during which his relationships with that industry have drawn scrutiny.
A longtime friend, Arthur Bedway, founder of Carnegie-based Victory Security, is under federal indictment in relation to a 2007 city contract to install and maintain computers and radios in police cars. A former city systems analyst has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted to taking $6,000 in bribes in relation to the contract.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Thursday that Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC was formed in February 2012 and listed as organizers Chief Harper, Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Sgt. Barry Budd, Officer Tonya Ford and Tamara L. Davis, a civilian in the police bureau.
At the time, Cmdr. Holmes was a sergeant. Chief Harper promoted him in August 2012. The chief said there was no connection between the promotion and the private business venture with Cmdr. Holmes.
Mr. Ravenstahl said that promotion was warranted.
"Eric Holmes has done a great job in the bureau and did merit promotion," he said. "Obviously now the business interest has come to light, but I can tell you he was not promoted because of his business interest he was promoted because of his work in the bureau and I have no reason at this point to make any changes there."
The mayor said the focus for the legal expert will be on secondary employment. He said the person would likely be an attorney or someone who has expertise in the field. He said there are some possible people under consideration for the post.
"We need to make sure that the police bureau is doing the right things and they are focused on their jobs as police officers for the city of Pittsburgh and keeping people safe. That should their number one and really only priority from my perspective. It's time to reform that bureau and it's time to look at all the policies and procedures," he said.
Asked whether he had told Chief Harper that he thought he was wrong in participating in the firm, Mr. Ravenstahl said, "I didn't. In my mind I would hope he'd be smarter than that. But again it's not a violation as it currently stands, but to me it's not acceptable and it has to change. We going to take a look at our scope of work on all of those policies and procedures and make sure something like this doesn't happen in the future."
He added that, "Obviously we can't prohibit people working outside the police department, but they shouldn't be doing law enforcement work and they shouldn't be starting up businesses with their subordinates. In that mind that goes without saying."
The mayor said he'd heard nothing about charges against Chief Harper, "and the chief is still the chief and he'll remain that."
Timothy McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581.