Former DA hired to review Pittsburgh police policies
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A former Washington County district attorney with a reputation for cracking down on police corruption has been appointed to review Pittsburgh Police Bureau regulations that govern outside employment for officers following revelations about a private business venture whose partners included Chief Nate Harper and several police officers.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced Monday that Steven M. Toprani, who served one term as district attorney in Washington County, would immediately begin reviewing the bureau's policies. He is charged with writing a report and making recommendations on how to change and strengthen the policies.
City solicitor Dan Regan said he is still in talks with Mr. Toprani, now a private defense attorney, about his compensation.
The mayor's announcement came two weeks after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Chief Harper, Cmdr. Eric L. Holmes, Sgt. Barry Budd, Officer Tonya Ford and Tamara L. Davis, who works in the police personnel and finance office, formed Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC in February 2012. The chief insists the company was dormant and that they were reserving the name for future use.
Cmdr. Holmes, who was promoted last year from sergeant, also held a full-time job as the interim director of public safety for Slippery Rock University from August 2007 to July 2008, earning $81,000 that year. Chief Harper apparently allowed then-Sgt. Holmes to work the job. Mr. Ravenstahl called the arrangement "unacceptable."
The mayor has said that Cmdr. Holmes' employment with Slippery Rock was improper, regardless of whether it violated city code or bureau policy. He wants bureau policy to be amended to ensure that officers are prohibited from holding full-time jobs outside of the bureau.
Bureau policy already is restrictive regarding outside employment for city police officers. It permits only "outside employment that will not require the use or potential use of law enforcement powers by the off-duty employee." It also stipulates that the "employment is of a non-police nature in which police powers are not a condition of employment and the work provides no real or implied law enforcement service to the employer."
It's unclear whether any of those involved with Diverse Public Safety Consultants ever performed any work in connection with the company. But on a website that has since been taken down, the company said it provides a wide range of services including training security guards, performing background checks, providing executive protection and supplying interim police chiefs.
Both the company and Cmdr. Holmes' second job with Slippery Rock University clearly violate the policy, said Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board.
But it's not just what the company purported to do that troubles her, it's the fact that the chief formed a business with several subordinates, including one -- Cmdr. Holmes -- whom he later promoted. She believes it could disturb the flow of authority in the bureau.
Mr. Toprani, who did not return phone calls for comment, distinguished himself as the chief prosecutor by attempting to straighten up police departments in Washington County. During his tenure, he initiated an audit of the California Borough police record room, which uncovered reams of mislabeled and missing drug evidence.
Mr. Toprani empaneled the county's first-ever grand jury to investigate police corruption.
Two years into his term, Mr. Toprani had already charged five police officers from various departments with corruption, including one who was accused of selling drugs from his police cruiser and tipping off drug dealers to upcoming raids.
"One of my goals has been to come up with policies and procedures that elevate law enforcement in this county," he said in April of 2010.
First Published February 19, 2013 12:00 am