Pittsburgh Council Holds Off on Off-Duty Police Reimbursement

Mar 13, 2013

Pittsburgh City Council postponed voting on two bills sponsored by Councilwomen Theresa Kail-Smith and Darlene Harris that would create a "Secondary Employment Trust Fund" as a depository for money earned by police from off-duty jobs as well as create a flat reimbursement for that work.  The reimbursement would be taken out of the trust fund account.  

The city usually charges private entities time-and-a-half to use off-duty officers for security and tacks on a $3.85 per hour fee for each officer for administrative costs. The fee was adopted by the police bureau but not enacted by council.

District 7 Councilman Patrick Dowd was the most vocal opponent of the bills, although he noted he didn't want to restrict someone's right to work.

Dowd called secondary employment a "privatization of the police force", and suggested the public safety department should stop secondary detail until the system is reformed.

"The public safety director should actually get his hand on the helm, seize the ship, if nobody else will, and call a halt right now to secondary detail," Dowd said.  "Candidly, it's a worse idea to let the system continue out of control as it is right now."

District 9 Councilman Burgess said the city doesn't pay police officers enough right now to be able to eliminate secondary detail.

"For people who lay their life on the line really you can never pay them enough, but we don't pay enough now," Burgess said.  "If we are going to eliminate secondary employment, as some have suggested, then we're going to need to be able to double, or significantly improve their pay."

Burgess added even if the city did eliminate the practice of secondary detail, they would still be able to practice their trade in another way.  But Burgess  said without it, there could be an increase in some criminal activity, like petty theft.

District 8 Councilman Bill Peduto outlined some best models used by other cities, including accounting, billing, and collection practices.

"Once we create a level, a standard, of good procedure, I think it will apply to everyone," Peduto said.  "It won't be specific to what's happening right now even though that's what's compelling us to move forward on this one issue."  

District 2 Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith disagreed.  She said conversations about it have been going on since 2000.

"I think before I even introduced these bills I said the one thing I don't want to do is play politics with our city police department," Kail-Smith said.  "This is the one thing I didn't want to do and I can see we're clearly headed down that road, and have been for some time."

Voting has been postponed for one week.