After more than nine months of discussion, Pittsburgh City Council Monday passed a minimum staffing policy for the Bureau of Police.
The policy authorizes the chief of police to initiate a new class in the training academy once the police force falls to 98 percent of the budgeted union sworn police personnel. The class itself would be equal to 5 percent of the budgeted number of officers.
The 2013 and 2014 budgets both allot for 892 officers. The Bureau of Police currently has 840 officers, far less than the 874 officers needed to initiate hiring.
Mayor-elect Bill Peduto said recruitment of new officers will begin right away.
“We’re probably going to have to go back to back to back recruiting classes within the academy, in the next 14-16 months,” Peduto said.
Peduto said the problem of understaffing has plagued the police force for at least a decade.
“Every year we are under budget in the police bureau, so every year we end up taking about $5 million in salary and transferring it to other areas,” Peduto said. “We use it almost as a cushion in order to balance the budgets that we go over-budget in other departments. I’d like, for once, to be able to see the full spending on police bureau going to the police bureau.”
The new policy will actually allow the Bureau of Police to begin training more new officers than are needed at any certain point in time, which might help alleviate the chronic understaffing problem. Currently, the bureau is consistently playing catch-up, since in the 10 months it takes to train a new cohort of recruits, more officers likely will have retired or resigned.
Council amended the bill just prior to its approval by removing language specifying that the bureau have 900 officers on staff.
“There was some concern from members that thought we should remove that number so we’re not limiting the mayor’s office in the future,” said Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, sponsor of the bill.
Peduto said he would like to see the number of police at 900, but that getting to the 892 budgeted officers is a good start, increasing the efficiency of the police force and positively affecting public safety.
“I know the one thing we could do is reduce the number of overtime that’s needed,” Peduto said. “Another thing is, we could have people feel a little bit more secure because we’d have more officers on shift duty. We’d also be able to give our zone commanders a little more flexibility to use undercover and unmarked … units in areas where we need to do more surveillance.”