Bill would outsource Pittsburgh special police scheduling

Harper indictment leads to revamping of city's events office

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A bill introduced before Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday would outsource the scheduling of moonlighting jobs for police officers to a North Carolina-based company, shifting that responsibility out of the police bureau as part of an effort to revamp the bureau's secondary employment operation.

The bill was sponsored by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, chairwoman of the public safety committee. It would provide $148,000 for scheduling services from Cover Your Assets LLC, which already runs a website for the bureau to help track side jobs for officers. The bill will be up for discussion and a preliminary vote next Wednesday.

Public safety director Mike Huss said he's planning to move the entire Special Events Office -- which handles secondary employment -- out of the bureau and into a city office building Downtown.

He decided to revamp the office after former police Chief Nate Harper was indicted on charges that he and others diverted $70,000 from the bureau into off-book accounts. According to the indictment, employees pilfered checks that had been sent to the Special Events Office, which billed businesses that had hired police officers for private security details.

Mr. Huss also initiated the overhaul because of allegations that some officers were receiving preferential treatment in obtaining off-duty details.

If the bill passes, Mr. Huss said two police officers in charge of scheduling details in the Special Events Office would be moved to other assignments and that role would be taken over by Cover Your Assets. That means companies and businesses that previously went through the office to hire off-duty police officers would contact Cover Your Assets instead, which has a dispatching center that operates 24 hours a day.

But there's another way officers can get off-duty security details. So-called "schedulers" are officers who work directly with businesses to arrange police for security details. Under their union contract, the schedulers -- who sometimes work the details themselves -- are entitled to overtime wages for the time it takes them to arrange the officers. Mr. Huss said some schedulers are also paid a fee per officer.

Mr. Huss said he wants to eliminate schedulers, too, and shift all scheduling to Cover Your Assets.

Schedulers are "selling a police officer for an hourly rate and getting a cut off the top," Mr. Huss said. "That's one of the things I wanted to get away from."

But that arrangement is protected by the union contract, meaning the city will have to negotiate with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 1, if they wish to do away with schedulers. The city is currently in negotiations with the union and is hammering out a new policy for secondary employment.

Sgt. Michael LaPorte applauded the city's effort to move the two officers out of the Special Events Office and delegate their duties to Cover Your Assets. He said the union has been pushing for some time to move officers out of clerical roles.

"We think police officers should be police officers," he said. "We shouldn't be clerks."

But Sgt. LaPorte, who himself schedules details, said the city should keep schedulers. If Mr. Huss is concerned about those who are getting beyond their contractual hourly wage for scheduling details, he should focus on reining in those officers instead of "throwing the baby out with the bath water," Sgt. LaPorte said.

Sgt. LaPorte said schedulers help the police bureau build relationships with the community. Often, the sergeant said, businesses are looking for officers who "look a certain way," and working with a scheduler can help them get the right officer for an off-duty detail.

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Moriah Balingit:, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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