Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Pay to Play Police Force

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
It is not clear whether youth or intent explains our Chief Executive's leadership role (or absentee lack thereof) in the long-time demolition of many arenas of accountability in our police force. It is clear that according to the law, an important power and duty of the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh should be "to take such action as may be necessary to ensure that no inequities exist in any unit of city government and that each unit operates in a manner which provides every citizens full and equal access to government..."

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)
Too often, it seems We the People are left far short of what it takes to pay the political machine not to "play," but just to survive, unable to come up with the bottom line for the most basic necessities: clean air, health care, transportation, sewers that function reliably. And yes, for police forces that serve all of our communities while remaining accountable to our democratic institutions as they "keep the peace."

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.


  1. Totally excellent Helen. I wish I could write that. My compliments. Respectfully, V.

  2. Thanks many tons, Vannevar. These posts always start out as very rough beasts indeed, and Bram is a good editor, even when disagree most heatedly. I've always very much enjoyed your posts and learned a great deal from them - so thanks to the second power!

  3. Helen, how would you respond to a counterargument that 1) the City can't afford to hire more officers or pay the ones we have now more overtime and yet 2) people feel safer having more uniformed police officers out there nonetheless at "major events" or "crowded venues"?

    It would be one thing if we could afford to un-privatize our police presence, but it sounds like to address your concerns we'd have to curtail that presence entirely. (And bear in mind, even if the challenge of UPMC's tax exemptions is successful, we're already prospectively spreading that non-infinite kitty pretty thin.) Does your end-game scenario entail lots more gov't revenue increases, or a public more comfortable being protected by guys wearing "STAFF" t-shirts, or a mixture of both?

  4. 1. Much of our current overtime payments should never have been allowed under basically competent management practice, such as the particularly egregious example of Police Commander Eric Holmes, who worked two full time jobs, one for the city, another as Director of Public Safety for Slippery Rock University, yet still used some sort of time machine (please give me one!) to also earn $61,698 of our tax dollars in 2010 and 2011 in overtime and premium pay.

    That story points out that C-TIPS made $180,055 in overtime, almost double the amount needed for the base pay for the supervising sergeant we are currently short of over here in Zone Five.

    According to reporting by Bob Bauder, Overtime in 2011 represented about 17 percent of the city's $193 million payroll, and most of it went to public safety personnel, including police, fire and emergency medical services, city records show.

    Here are a few more stories on overtime:


    More overtime also means greater pension costs.

    Almost all of these stories note the non-monetary costs to the public of exhausted forces that cannot give the same quality of service.

    That'll have to be a cursory beginning right now for addressing number 1...

    2. Very quickly cause I gotta run: Yeah, what's wrong with the Pirates paying private STAFF-stuffed t-shirts? A badge and a gun are really not necessary to keep the sporting herds from trampling each other as the private security forces in many other cities sporting events have demonstrated.

  5. Dowd was perfectly content to allow our police to engage in mass arrests and the wholesale trampling of civil liberties during the G20. He got himself appointed to lead the investigation only to fail to produce any results in an effort to shield the bureau from accountability. And let us not forget his efforts to dismantle the CPRB!

    With a track record like that I can only believe his second act will be to offer some form of major concession to the FOP in order to compensate for the wages lost through secondary details.

  6. Anon 3:52 - There is a weird outstanding issue of Dowd's one-time G20 investigation, I'll grant you that. My hunch (hunch!) is that for the most part, it's attributable to the tangential impact of the feds and homeland security / national security. Plus the insurance policy / deal with the devil the City took out.

    Aside from that, I don't know anything about Dowd (or anyone else) "dismantling" the CPRB, it is a challenged institution even in its most ideal circumstances. And what concessions can anybody give the FOP (police union) that they don't have already?? Besides removing the residency requirement (which I happen to agree with, so long as we get something in return at the bargaining table).

  7. Helen, 2:21 pt. 2 - Don't forget the tazer.

  8. Once upon a time, there was a concept: Equal protection under the law

    Then somebody realized that misusing things was profitable and acceptable.

    Frank Lorenzo figured out that taking airlines apart was more profitable than running airlines. Mitch Romney figured out that leveraging companies and then abandoning them was profitable. The Pirates' owners figured out that consistently losing on a small payroll was profitable. We ended up with a lot of institutions that lost their integrity and their original mission.

    In one example, Pittsburgh realized you could tremendously underpay police officers if that job was the ticket to lucrative outside employment, and began providing mercenary police officers to bars and venues. The bottom line was: the FOP cared more about the saloon keeper and the stadium gig that about the, the, what's that word? Oh yeah, citizens, residents, taxpayers, schmucks.

    Here's the newest flavor: the neighborhood improvement district, which sounds so much like extortion and paying protection money and in fact, it is.

    Some areas that have a little more money than others will form special districts and hire their own police - not from some external corporation like back in the day, but from the actual police department!

    The police department will actually be selling police services to some (notably not all) districts that decide to form Neighborhood Improvement Districts, assess their own levies, and hire their own police from the police.

    Frank Lorenzo is smiling somewhere down there.

    Equal protection under the law is a lost concept.

  9. Fact check ---- police overtime DOES NOT count towards pension calculations. Only firefighters have that sweet deal.

  10. Van - Lost; is it partially obsolete? An argument can easily be made that what you describe is all for the well and good, so long as a Detail Mafia doesn't develop, clandestine accounts are eschewed, and a few elementary controls are placed on the operation to oversee such outrageous tomfoolery.

    I hear differing things about whether or not our police force as a rule provides [adequate, sufficient, fair, reasonable, not sure of the best word] coverage of public housing neighborhoods. I honestly don't know which accounts are more trustworthy. I know that privatizing a function o that duty entirely outside the Bureau with "Victory Security" resulted in its own fairly serious difficulties.

  11. Anon 9:12 - I'll try to confirm that, and if it's true, thank you very much. I would make prominent corrections of my own previous past statements.

  12. @Anon 9:12 PM

    THANK YOU for that fact check and apologies for the sloppiness - it's the Allengheny County Police overtime-pension linkage that I was projecting onto the Pittsburgh Police, described here:

    The controller found that the 40 police employees who are eligible to retire with full pension benefits will receive a total of $807,031 in overtime wages this year, up from $531,827 last year. Under the county's pension formula, the overtime compensation will entitle those employees to an extra $9 million in retirement benefits over their lifetimes, or an extra $10,450 a year on average.


  13. That's a 2002 report though...will try to find something more recent, because I really need to be learning more about how all these municipalities and the County integrate (or don't) their services, and think about how that affects how/why the private sector is hiring their own security.

    Vannevar, just an awesome comment - thank you.

    Bram, I will indeed be tangling with tasers in my next post (actually part III - forgot to number this one, which I'll correct right now.)

  14. Here is Dowd running some interference on CPRB at the very least. And it sounds like he wants a subordinate board rather than a proactive one. Of course, when voters passed a resolution asking for the Library to have taxation powers that is democratic authority that must be taken seriously - here not so much.

    And here he is dropping non-sequiturs into a debate over stop and frisk laws.


    Dowd is a police apologist and does little to hide his true colors. As far as there being little left that the FOP could ask for, I can think of quite a few. Mandatory staffing measures especially in oversight positions would be welcome and sounds congenial to Dowd's recent call for additional sergeants in several zones.

    In addition, there has a always been a desire to see the size of the bureau increase. It now looks like the residency requirement is on the table for the next mayor so they will probably get that, but it isn't hard to believe that a longer wish list could be generated at will.

  15. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-city/pittsburgh-council-urges-police-review-board-to-slow-g-20-investigation-251360/

  16. Thanks. And I'm for putting long wish lists on tables and working with what we've got.

    Then there's today's news:


  17. It seems to me that the one thing that no one yet has done is lay out on a large chart (or wall) all the needs of public safety in the city, and then on the opposite wall lay out all the resources (personnel and money), and then match them up.

    Maybe it's better if we hire police officers specifically to do the extra jobs, and we charge the venues accordingly? Or maybe officers doing overtime is the best way. Maybe we could pass a law that the large venues must hire their own security? I don't know whether we could or not, but we should find out.

    And the statistics! What are the officers doing, facilitating, preventing, at the events? What are other officers accomplishing in the neighborhoods simultaneously?

    Maybe we need to implement Host Fees - the City is charged with protecting (whether paid by the venue or not) when major events happen within our boundaries. Maybe a Host Fee would cover it, and allow us to manage police placement minute to minute rather than as we do it now.

    Isn't this basic management? We the public and news media don't have all the facts, and truly the matter does run all across the whole public safety department - police, fire, EMS, BBI, Animal C&C. Isn't this why we hire a Public Safety Director? What else would that person do?

    The point is that we are all just guessing, we need more information.

    We're paying a lot for management. The answers should be on the boss' desk.

  18. Before chanting the praises of eliminating residency requirements, shouldn't we ask what exactly the City will gain? Will this bring us more "community-oriented policing"? Will it make it easier to reach the diversity-hiring goals that any conceivable mayor will surely tout? Will it somehow make it easier to pay attractive wages and offer good benefits to those whose hands we entrust our safety and well-being every day?

  19. Anon 12:13 - Lack of residency requirements MIGHT help with diversity hiring... we could advertise in and around other cities, and allow them suburban school systems and amenities here if they wish. We could also be a lot more effective with what we do internally in terms of diversity. Call it DiverseCity 366 if you have to. And I don't know if a cop from Banksville working a beat or running a special assignment in Larimer is "community policing" ... not unless it's organized among the community anyway, and that's a whole separate issue. And I can't speak to wages, except apparently the FOP is for it, so that's an indication is not?

  20. Thoughtful and practically useful responses that will inform and challenge my thinking for my next post. Thank you, all.