Union official: Rank-and-file 'surprised' at Pittsburgh police Chief Harper's departure
The second-highest-ranking member of the union representing Pittsburgh police officers said the rank-and-file are still shocked this morning by the sudden forced resignation of Chief Nate Harper and morale remains low.
"My initial reaction was we were just surprised at how it had taken place and why it had taken place," Michael Benner, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, said. "We don't know what the mayor knows."
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he asked for the chief's resignation effective immediately Wednesday after the FBI questioned the mayor for two hours.
Morale has been noticeably low within the bureau while a federal grand jury investigates how a contract was awarded to a former friend of Mr. Harper and FBI agents have collected documents from police headquarters and a credit union as part of what police bureau Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said he thought was likely a probe into allegations that money had been misappropriated within the bureau.
"I think the morale is low to begin with," Detective Benner said. Asked whether he thought Mr. Harper's resignation had made morale worse, Detective Benner said, "I don't think it really changed much."
The detective said the union wants to reserve judgment on the resignation of Mr. Harper and the selection of Assistant Chief Regina McDonald as interim chief.
"What we know is from you guys," he told reporters. "We're still on the outside looking in at this."
His comments came after after he and union attorney Bryan Campbell met with Chief McDonald on an unrelated matter. Detective Benner said they did not discuss the appointment of Chief McDonald as acting head of the bureau.
The detective's comment come hours after union president Sgt. Michael LaPorte questioned the selection of Chief McDonald as acting chief, saying she oversees one of the departments from which the FBI seized records last week.
Investigators from the FBI and IRS have taken documents from the bureau's North Side headquarters and from the Greater Pittsburgh Police Credit Union in the West End.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned that at least one check for $5,675.52 from the University of Pittsburgh to the police bureau was deposited in September 2009 into an "I.P.F." account with the address of police headquarters.
Another account listed as "Special Events c/o Sandy Ganster" is also maintained at the credit union, which Pittsburgh city Controller Michael Lamb has said is not an authorized depository for funds.
Ms. Ganster is manager of the bureau's personnel and finance department. Special Events is the office that handles officers' moonlighting.
A federal grand jury is investigating how a contract to install radios and computers was awarded to a former friend of Mr. Harper. Mr. Harper has said he played no role in awarding the contract.
His attorney, Robert Del Greco Jr., said Mr. Harper has been interviewed twice by the FBI and maintains that he has not done anything criminal.
First Published February 21, 2013 12:36 am