By Helen Gerhardt
Part II of a series on Security Culture, Public-Private Partnerships and Corruption. Click here for Part I.
|Let's Play Ball|
Along with plenty of other fresh evidence of neglect over the past months, fulfillment of that duty to ensure equity of service also seems to be cast into doubt by primary documents recently posted by City Councilman Patrick Dowd at his District 7 website, the still-fragmentary accounting of payments for the private use of Pittsburgh's public police forces. Dowd has noted that the largest proportion of such security services were paid for by bars, strip clubs and sporting events.
Going through the 2012 reports and adding up what receipts we do have, I note just a few of the literal "pay for play" sums from enormously wealthy customers turning enormous profits for their investments in sporting events and attendant infrastructure such as parking.
Total from ALCO parking: $223,340
Total from CONSOL Energy Center: $274,882
Total from the Pittsburgh Pirates: $534,002
The grand total for just those three private companies out of many other customers listed adds up to over a million dollars out of the nearly six million dollars for secondary details that we have accounts for. (Yes, all those zeroes on those documents surely add up to plenty of weight in uncounted cash, but I'll consider that gravity in my next post, along with other costs of moonlighting.) As Dowd has noted, such sports events were often crowded with Pittsburgh police even as the City zones most in need of policing were repeatedly left drastically short-staffed. Just considering such inequitable distribution of official secondary details, our police force could be characterized as a public-private partnership that is not serving the public interest. And the current system seems to be encouraging motivations for police service that could be described as mercenary.
|Sporting Traditions (h/t Infinonymous)|
No one elected official can challenge these problems alone. Our own choices for Chief Executive and Council leadership, their choices for the next Chief of Police, but even more importantly, our own steady insistence that those we elect tackle crucial systemic reform all will be crucial.
Three bills up for final approval in City Council this week seem to be attempts to directly address this need for systemic reform. Council President Darlene Harris has introduced a bill that would increase the percentage that the City of Pittsburgh receives per hour of officer secondary detail wages. A second bill proposed by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith would ensure greater financial accountability by requiring deposit of secondary detail income into a trust fund to be overseen by the City Controller. A third bill proposes an intensive study of current City policy and practice regarding secondary details. Councilman Dowd has strongly urged that Council wait to explore the need for potentially far deeper surgery to our fundamental systems of policing, before applying what might be perceived as band-aids. He said:
"I, for one, do not want to privatize the police force...That's what this is. This is a vote to privatize the police force and send them out to protect some, and it's at the expense of the all, of the majority."
Even beyond the crucial issues of accounting and equitable distribution of services, we must also consider the fragmented rules of engagement for the use of semi-official, often deadly force in our communities. My next post will address the non-monetary costs to our city and our civil liberties when we allow use of "mercenary," increasingly paramilitary City forces, for private benefit of the Powers that Be filling campaign coffers.