Pittsburgh’s new acting public safety director started work this week with former Public Safety Director Michael Huss staying on for the transition. Stephan Bucar was most recently a supervisory special agent section chief in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, he will now head the city’s Department of Public Safety.
“We now have a public safety department,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. “There hasn’t been a public safety department in the city of Pittsburgh since the Caliguiri administration. There’s been a public safety director, but the department usually existed with one director and a secretary and maybe one staff member.”
Now, programs such as Safer Together Pittsburgh will be under the department, with special events and emergency operations moving from police to the department as well. There are also several unfilled positions that are to be filled by Bucar as he sees fit.
Peduto said that after several unsuccessful tries at hiring a new director the process started from scratch and Bucar rose to the top. Peduto referred to advice he received from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at a new mayor training at Harvard University.
“His words were, ‘At one moment in these next four years you’re going to be faced with the worst day of your life. Something terrible is going to happen, I can assure you that, and there are going to be four TV cameras pointed at your face and you’re going to have one person standing to your right and you better make sure you have all the trust in the world in that person,’ and he was referring to the person that you choose to be your public safety director,” Peduto said.
Bucar started Monday and said his first day was a whirlwind of tours and administrative tasks. He said he knows he took on a tough situation, but added that he likes a challenge. Bucar will be tasked with finding a new police chief, after former chief Nate Harper was convicted on conspiracy charges. He’s now serving 18 months in federal prison. As for plans for the Department of Public Safety Department, Bucar said he’s just getting started.
“I haven’t had a chance to really plan a strategy,” Bucar said. “Logically, I want to get to know the people who work for me and tour fire stations, police departments, get to know the command staff — all of that is going to take time.”
The search for a permanent police chief is underway.
“In the meantime I’m going to be looking at all the problems, all the situations in the entire public safety department, focusing primarily on the police bureau because I don’t want to let these issues linger,” said Bucar.
Peduto said there are two main challenges in finding a new chief and moving the police department forward.
“We have to raise the morale within this bureau,” Peduto said. “It’s at the lowest that I’ve seen it, and I saw it under federal consent decree where the feds came in and took over the police bureau, and we have to restore the faith between the bureau and the community.”
Peduto said he and Bucar will attend public safety meetings in each of the city’s zones, and there will be public comment at each for people to weigh in on what they’d like to see in a chief. He expects that process to be wrapped up by the end of July and said he’d like to see a permanent police chief in place by Labor Day. As for the philosophy that will lead the police department, Bucar said that remains to be seen.
“Policing is not a science, it’s an art,” he said. “You have many different tactics of dealing with crime problems from a police department strategy and philosophy. There’s no cookie-cutter solution, you have to look a mix of different alternatives.”
Former Public Safety Director Michael Huss will help Bucar through the transition. Peduto said Huss was among the four finalists for the post. He thanked Huss for his service and said Pittsburgh would be lucky to have him remain with the city in some capacity, but added that capacity is not clear at this time.
Bucar’s nomination for public safety director must still be approved by City Council.