Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chief Nate Harper: Resignation Time

Carston Koell, Getty Europe

We briefly interrupt Comet Transit Week to bring you this breaking news:

Last year, Pittsburgh police Chief Nathan E. Harper became part of a private security consulting firm with a civilian police clerk and three of his officers, including a sergeant he later promoted to commander. (Silver, Navratil & Lord)

Despite the arrangement's legality and its lack of any specific inhibitory policy at the Dept. of Public Safety, this behavior by a Chief plainly can encourage distracted decision-making and negative effects on workforce environments. So far, so unfortunate. But against a backdrop of guilty pleas by Bureau underlings and "former friends" associated with Mr. Harper's life partner, it finishes an unwholesome portrait. Ms. Pittinger's description is valid: messy and unethical.


Right on schedule, we see one result of "unacceptable" yet nonetheless tolerated examples at the top depressing the standards in and maybe even the performance of public safety. How can the Chief be expected stand up for the need for City officers to focus on their excruciatingly difficult day jobs, when he himself engages in mixing agendas?


  1. It was interesting to hear Dowd call for, in a not so veiled way, for the Chief's resignation today on WYEP. It is difficult to imagine one of the Bureau's most ardent supporters calling for this unless the behind the scenes information that he has access to is pretty damning.

    I think the larger question is why do we see, over and over and over again, the Bureau blowing up into scandal. Every 12 to 18 months there is evidence of major misconduct in the force. And while some level of unjustified force or lying is probably to be expected in any metropolitan department, Pittsburgh sees these incidents compounded by cover-ups and a lack of investigation in the upper echelons.

    Dowd today called for more sergeants and implied that this would bring more oversight. But in light of ample evidence of cover-ups it seems clear that what we need is citizen oversight - true transparency and accountability. Until that happens most thinking people believe that we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

  2. And does anyone have any real perspective or insight as to whether Zone 1 police commander Rashall Brackney would make a good chief? I remember there was that one (1) questionable incident involving possibly diverting the DUI investigation of a friend, but that's relatively microscopic potatoes.

  3. ...

    Isn't Brackney's intervention into that DUI exactly the sort of thing a successor should not be tainted with or capable of?

    If you're looking for the best possible replacement, look no further than Commander Stangrecki. He might not fit the diversity hiring target, but he's truly the best man available within the organization at this time.

  4. Anon 1:57 - "Exactly" is used with gross imprecision in your comment. I get the feeling that law enforcement officers giving their friends and loved ones the occasional pass or get-out-of-jail-free card is something that happens. Which is bad. However, institutionally that does that make Cmdr. Brackney at all likely to open side businesses among cliques of officers and subordinates, help rig bids, blow off routine oversight and discipline, disengage communities or tolerate the obvious good old boys' culture.

  5. If you roll up and pull your friends out of DUI arrests against the will of the arresting officers and in plain public view...what favors are you unwilling to do them behind closed doors, I wonder? Otherwise, she seems really nice...

  6. It does seem a bit inappropriate to be considering replacements for someone who is still in a position.

    That said, it would be a good thing to stop promoting officers who commit domestic violence - or any lesser offense - or who are business associates of superior officers.

    The protection of friends on the force was a serious focus of the hearing City Council had in 2007 concerning policies dealing with police who may be involved in domestic violence. Covering for fellow officers who commit crimes is wrong.

    Perhaps we could consider hiring someone away from a successful suburban force: someone who trained in our police force and then left for better pay and working conditions.

    There are, of course, a couple positions higher up than the Chief who could promote unity and integrity - the Mayor and his Director of Public Safety. The ones who go off to Seven Springs to play during major public safety events.

    A new Mayor might have a clearer vision in this regard.

  7. Isn't it a bit inappropriate to be considering replacements for a mayor who is still in that position?

  8. @flybylight and Bram

    I'm all for focusing the public spotlight on replacement decisions for a position so crucial to the public interest, from first rumor of the need for a change to the the moment before the contract is inked.

    Bram, I was impressed by Brackney's courage in speaking out about the histories of the three officers that assaulted Jordan Miles. The DUI incident seems a bit muddled and a quick google search didn't bring up any other articles that show other potential abuses of authority. Are there other patterns of her performance that lead you to believe she would make a good chief?

  9. She has spoken out like that on occasion, for which she stands out as just a bit of a black sheep amongst the brass.

  10. Interesting to note that Brackney has a CMU degree, as does Rudiak and Fitzgerald. Peduto has a Pitt masters and attended CMU, Dowd's a PhD and Lamb's a lawyer. I'll throw in Gilman (CMU grad), Hens-Greco (lawyer) and Sharene Shealey, an engineer, who was recently elected school board president but is not running for re-election. All of this education actually gives me some hope for local government, despite the widespread anti-intellectual, old school cronyism that still permeates Grant Street.

  11. The real problem is that the past four police chiefs have been hired from within the police bureau. This is not in keeping with best practices in law enforcement. Most major city police departments embark on a sometimes months long nationwide search for a new chief. Hiring outside people is crucial because otherwise over time the only thing that happens is that the status quo and poor leadership is perpetuated and the department loses out on opportunities for change and improvement. This has definitely been the case in Pittsburgh, which is arguable one of the most backwards police departments of major cities in the country. It is in desperate need of fresh blood.