For more than a year, political leaders, bar and restaurant owners and community groups had been working on plans to start pairing off-duty and on-duty officers to patrol East Carson Street.
Currently, 20 establishments along East Carson employ 22 uniformed off-duty police officers to provide door security.
Under the new plan for weekends, there will be a 30-member "impact squad" that includes 10 regularly assigned officers plus 12 off-duty officers paid for by the nightlife consortium and 8 additional officers supplied by the mayor's detail. They will patrol East Carson from 10th to 24th street, as well as two blocks on either side of East Carson.
While there would be two fewer officers overall, the 20 remaining off-duty police would be able to cover more territory than the entrance to whatever bar or restaurant employing them. The officers would also work a longer period, from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. — an hour longer than under the current plan.
In addition, the new plan will also cost the city less. In all, the plan would save the city $76,336 per year.
But early last week that plan seemed to hit a snag. Even though South Side bars and restaurants had pledged $250,000 to pay for the off-duty protection, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss rejected it because of the ongoing investigation into how the police bureau has handled paying off-duty officers.
The investigation centers around former Police Chief Nate Harper, who allegedly instructed finance staff to deposit some checks for the use of officers at special events into two unauthorized accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, rather than into the city’s general fund at PNC Bank.
But after a two-hour meeting Friday of Huss, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., City Councilman Bruce Kraus and others, the plan will go forward.
Kraus, who represents the South Side, said while the meeting cleared a lot of issues Huss had, the plan is still in the working stages.
“There’s a few things we do have to tweak," he said, "but we were able to all agree that we can restructure this policing system in the South Side in context with the director’s desire to redesign secondary employment and detail holistically in the city of Pittsburgh."
Even though there are still small issues with the plan, Kraus said the meeting resolved the biggest problem.
“The big hurdle that we needed to get through was the director’s resistance to see this reorganization of police the way that we see it,” he said. “And so that we were able to accomplish. So there are some minor details that we might need to work out over the next week or two.”
The addition of more officers on the South Side follows the ramped up enforcement Mayor Luke Ravenstahl instituted in January. At the time, Ravenstahl said other recommendations would be implemented to lessen the need for aggressive enforcement over time.
The altered security presence is expected to start May 17.