Bars told to hire police until 3 a.m.
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The Pittsburgh Police Bureau told bar and nightclub owners this week that it will not supply off-duty uniformed officers to work as security guards at establishments that refuse to keep them on hand until 3 a.m.
Bar owners typically pay for uniformed officers to monitor their businesses until they close, usually about 2 a.m. But police officials in June asked owners on the tavern-saturated South Side to have off-duty officers stay on site an extra hour to quell potential violence and other problems that crop up when thousands of people flood the streets and head home. In the case of the South Side, police officials were concerned that crowd-control efforts kept on-duty officers from quickly answering calls in the district's other neighborhoods.
Deputy police Chief Paul Donaldson on Friday said the bureau is now asking the same of bar owners throughout the city who rely on officers for security, although he said exemptions have already been requested and granted for bars that close much earlier.
"The Bureau has enacted this reasonable regulation to ensure that the bar crowds are peacefully disbursed, provide much needed assistance for on-duty officers and improve officer safety," Chief Donaldson wrote in a memo to officers and bar owners who offer secondary employment. "Officers are not authorized to work at any bar/club that does not abide by the above stated guidelines."
The chief said in an interview that officials are not setting a start time and that bar owners can choose to hire private security if they do not want to pay officers to stay until 3 a.m. He said the bureau can set such guidelines because it employs the officers first and foremost. Establishments that don't comply can be kept off the city's list of "approved secondary employers," and officers who persist in working there can face discipline, he said.
"No one is being forced. ... It's not an unreasonable request," Chief Donaldson said, acknowledging other neighborhoods don't have the same concentration of bars as the South Side but can benefit from the extended police presence.
"All we are saying is, you can't dismiss the officers at 2:10 or 2:30. That little extra time will help us a great deal."
Police union leaders said they have filed a grievance related to the issue, saying the extra hour is in violation of their contract, which says those called in by the city to work overtime must receive four hours of time-and-a-half pay.
"A lot of people are describing it to me as extortion," said Mike Papariella, owner of Casey's Draft House in the 1800 block of East Carson, who spent part of Friday handing out the letter to fellow bar owners. He has been part of meetings with police officials to find solutions to the South Side's trouble with crowd control.
"But I have also heard the opposite, that [bar owners] can see where [police brass] are coming from. ... It's one of those things we need to discuss."
For his part, Mr. Papariella said he saw the chief's letter as a sudden departure from the contract he has had with the city for years concerning the use of its officers. He questioned whether stationing an officer at a quieter establishment until 3 a.m. would be a valid use of time and money.
"It's basically saying ... if you don't do this, you don't get a cop," he said. "I don't understand why we're being punished when we are trying to come up with a solution."
First Published August 4, 2012 12:00 am