Chief's safety company not illegal, district attorney finds
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Pittsburgh police Chief Nathan E. Harper did nothing illegal last year by joining with three Pittsburgh police officers to organize a public safety consulting corporation, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday.
But a wide-ranging legal review remains under way by the city's Law Department that will examine municipal law to determine whether any lapses were committed by the chief or others.
"They're looking at the potential conflict of interest and/or ethical violations that could exist with regard to the chief's involvement with Diverse Public Safety Consultants," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, said. "The Law Department's reviewing it and when that review is complete, the mayor will comment in more specifics."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Thursday that Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC was formed in February 2012 and listed as organizers Chief Harper, Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Sgt. Barry Budd, Officer Tonya Ford and Tamara L. Davis, a civilian in the police bureau.
At the time, Cmdr. Holmes was a sergeant. Chief Harper promoted him in August 2012. The chief said there was no connection between the promotion and the private business venture with Cmdr. Holmes.
City solicitor Dan Regan said he met Thursday with Mr. Ravenstahl to discuss Diverse Public Safety Consultants, but not with Chief Harper.
"We met about the matter involving the chief's involvement in this corporate entity," Mr. Regan said. "We have not come to any conclusion. The mayor asked me to review the matter. And I'm in the process of conducting my review.
"We'll review any applicable federal, state, local laws, ordinances, policies," Mr. Regan said.
"I also spoke with the district attorney," he added and said he would take Mr. Zappala's views into consideration. "I don't think we're in a position at this point to come to any specific conclusions."
City Councilman Patrick Dowd on Thursday stopped short of calling for Chief Harper's ouster, but he said, "I think somebody else ought to be protecting and serving the city."
"Chief Harper has worked in the bureau since 1977. He took his oath about the time I was 9. He's built up a huge reputation protecting and serving the people of the city," Mr. Dowd said. "At the same time, I think it's important that he maybe has a number of things he's got to deal with and maybe needs to be focused on protecting his reputation, and doing that as he tries to run the bureau may not be possible."
The chief's involvement in a private security startup comes after more than a year during which his relationships with that industry have drawn scrutiny. A longtime friend, Arthur Bedway, founder of Carnegie-based Victory Security, is under federal indictment in relation to a 2007 city contract to install and maintain computers and radios in police cars. A former city systems analyst has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted to taking $6,000 in bribes in relation to the contract.
Neither the mayor nor Pittsburgh public safety director Mike Huss was aware of Chief Harper's involvement with Diverse Public Safety Consultants.
Mr. Ravenstahl spoke Wednesday by phone with Chief Harper. Ms. Doven would not detail their conversation. Police spokeswoman Diane Richard also would not say what was discussed.
The mayor declined to discuss any details when he was asked about the matter at a candidates night session Thursday in the 15th Ward.
"The solicitor is still concluding his review of the situation and until [that] is complete, I'm not going to comment further.
"I had a discussion with the chief. At this point, I'm not going to go into detail about that discussion. I will once our finding is done," Mr. Ravenstahl said.
Chief Harper has said the corporation is inactive and not earning money. He said he planned it as a retirement vehicle for consulting.
Mr. Zappala questioned why there was a need to form the corporation at all while Chief Harper and three of the other four organizers were still active police officers.
Mr. Zappala said the corporation has not applied through his office for a private detective license.
If the group did file for such a license while Chief Harper and the other officers were still working for the police bureau, "we would oppose it," Mr. Zappala said.
"It's a dormant entity from all we can tell," Mr. Zappala said. "I don't intend to take any other action."
If Chief Harper and the other organizers of the corporation were to perform certain types of public safety consulting work after retiring from the job and while in possession of a valid private detective license there would likely be no problem.
But Mr. Zappala said if certain work is performed while the chief and the others are still employed as police officers -- work using investigative or intelligence information gathered through their position as police officers -- that would potentially be illegal.
According to a website that was taken down Wednesday after the Post-Gazette began asking questions about the business, Diverse Public Safety Consultants provides a wide range of services, including training security guards, performing background checks, providing executive protection and supplying interim police chiefs.
Diverse Public Safety Consultants listed an address in McKees Rocks that houses JRD Sales and Service.
The owner of that building supply company, John H. Reed, said he has a longtime family friendship with one of the consultancy's founders, Ms. Ford. He added that his wife is a retired city police officer.
First Published February 8, 2013 12:00 am