Harper must go: The police chief is no longer serving Pittsburgh

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By his own admission, Pittsburgh police chief Nate Harper has already started planning for his retirement. He should take it now.

Nearly a year ago, Chief Harper became part of a private security consulting firm along with a civilian police clerk and three of his officers, including one whom he subsequently promoted from sergeant to commander. Although District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala said it wasn't illegal, that hardly seems like something a boss ought to be doing while he ostensibly is supervising those same individuals.

The chief's explanation is that he and his employees formed Diverse Public Safety Consultants as a vehicle for doing private consulting work in retirement. He said it was created primarily to preserve the corporate name, is not making any money and is inactive, although a company website had been up and running last week.

The revelation led Mayor Luke Ravenstahl Friday to seek a legal expert to study police policies on outside work. On Saturday the Post-Gazette reported that Chief Harper in 2007 apparently approved then-Sgt. Eric Holmes to work a second full-time job as interim head of Slippery Rock University's police force. Mr. Holmes, now a commander, is one of Chief Harper's associates in the private security venture.

The situation is all the more troubling because it comes after more than a year in which Chief Harper's relationships with the security industry have been under scrutiny. A longtime friend is under federal indictment in relation to a 2007 city contract to install and maintain radios and computers in city police vehicles. A former city employee already has pleaded guilty and admitted taking bribes in connection with that contract.

All of this comes at a time when the police department is facing significant questions of public safety, most notably the murder of a Larimer woman soon after officers responded to her call for assistance but left without speaking to her and a police chase that ended with officers firing into a vehicle on a crowded South Side street.

Chief Harper has too much personal baggage right now to give the real work of the police department the attention it deserves. If he can't decide that it's time to retire, the mayor should decide for him and show the chief the door.

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