Leadership void: The Pittsburgh police deserve better at the top

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The latest embarrassment for the Pittsburgh police bureau is the scene of FBI agents hauling away boxes of records from police headquarters on the North Side. The seizure Tuesday is one more sign that this is no well-run department, which raises the question "Who's minding the store?"

Not Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. He repeated Wednesday that he stands by his man, police Chief Nate Harper.

But Pittsburghers shouldn't mistake blind loyalty for common sense. This is a department out of control -- and if the chief and the mayor won't take charge, who will?

Federal agents, of course, do not disclose what they are seeking, but Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said he believes the documents are part of a probe of allegations that funds were being misappropriated internally. He said the inquiry involved the special events office -- which oversees officers' outside employment -- and the personnel and finance office.

The federal investigation is only the most recent sign that the police lack leadership. Pittsburghers just learned that Mr. Harper last year joined a private business venture with several subordinates, including one later promoted from sergeant to commander. Also new is that the chief approved in 2007 the sergeant-now-commander to work a second full-time job as interim head of Slippery Rock University's police. A longtime friend of Mr. Harper is under federal indictment regarding a city contract to install radios in police vehicles, and a former city employee has pleaded guilty and admitted taking bribes on the contract.

Then there are the recent appalling gaps in public safety: the murder of a Larimer woman soon after officers responded to her 911 call but left without speaking to her and a police chase on the South Side that ended with officers firing into a car on a crowded street.

This is the kind of command in which the mayor has confidence?

Pittsburghers deserve better -- and so do the dedicated police officers who go to work each day not knowing what dangers they may face. Their risk and service is worthy of inspired, tireless leadership. What they get instead are excuses, subpoenas and a rudderless department.

Mayor Ravenstahl has the chance to make it right, but instead of canning the chief he plays a dangerous waiting game with a bumbling status quo.

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