Acting Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald said she plans to address a manpower shortage -- at least temporarily -- by moving officers out of headquarters and into the neighborhood stations.
The three detectives who were working in the graffiti squad will be moved to the Hill District and Highland Park stations, which are considered to be the most strapped. Their moves are considered permanent for now but could be reconsidered if staffing levels improve in the future, the chief said.
To address the shortage, the chief also has assigned four officers to work temporary 60-day rotations at the Zone 2 station in the Hill District and one officer to work a similar rotation at the Zone 5 station in Highland Park. An additional five officers are expected to begin similar 60-day rotations at those stations shortly, according to figures provided by police spokeswoman Diane Richard.
Chief McDonald said those rotations will continue until 27 officers finish field training and are free to be assigned throughout the bureau.
Staffing levels have been a point of contention for the police union, which has argued that it could benefit from having more officers work in the zones. The issue also has been the focus of a bill before city council that would trigger hiring at certain staffing levels.
Chief McDonald said her decisions to disband the graffiti squad and enact the 60-day rotations were affected by those concerns.
When she made her decisions, she said, she was looking for places where she felt people could be the most easily moved. She chose to assign the responsibilities previously handled by the graffiti squad to the intelligence unit.
The graffiti squad began its work under former Chief Nate Harper. It received 198 graffiti reports and cleared 62 graffiti reports through 10 arrests in 2011, the most recent year for which an annual report with statistics is available.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss said he supported the chief's decision to disband the graffiti squad.
"We have a desire to move people out of specialized positions and back into operations," he said. "With some of the recent violence you've seen out in the East End, we're trying to get more officers out in the street where they belong."
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 president Sgt. Michael LaPorte referred comment to the union's grievance chairman, who could not be reached for comment.
Liz Navratil: email@example.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.