Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh police chief’

Over a year ago, the chief of police in Pittsburgh resigned during a corruption scandal.  (He subsequently pled guilty and has been sentenced to eighteen months in federal prison.)  Very shortly after that, the incumbent mayor announced he would not seek re-election and would leave the selection of a new chief to the next Mayor.

In one of the posts I wrote about these events, I asked what process a new mayor should follow in searching for a new chief.

Mayor Bill Peduto took office in January of 2014, and announced that he would first select a new Public Safety Director.  (In Pittsburgh, the Public Safety Director oversees not only the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, but also EMS and fire services. )  The Mayor would appoint a new chief after that, with the advice of the new Public Safety Director.

The new Public Safety Director, Stephen Bucar has begun his job (he is acting Director, since the City Council has not yet confirmed him).  An article in today’s Pittsburgh-Post Gazette describes the porcess that the Mayor and the Public Safety Director plan to follow:

Six months after Mayor Bill Peduto took office, he announced plans Wednesday to conduct a series of public meetings aimed at giving officials insight into what residents hope to find in a new Pittsburgh police chief.The mayor, through a spokesman, outlined plans to conduct meetings in conjunction with the public safety councils at each of the city’s six neighborhood police stations.He also unveiled a new website where people can leave their suggestions….“This is going to be a public outreach directly to the people of Pittsburgh asking them what they want in a police chief,” Mr. Peduto said in a statement.

The  article also mentions a “search committee tasked with developing a list of candidates for the Mayor and [Mr.] Bucar to consider,” but gives no detail about the committee, its composition, or its duties.

This process is leaps-and-bounds different from the usual way that Pittsburgh mayors have made high-level appointments.  The pubic has a chance to have input.  Though it’s less than clear how much what the public wants will matter, the step of opening the process up means that the Mayor recognizes just how important this appointment is to the public.  In my opinion, the citizens of Pittsburgh should give the Mayor and the process the benefit of the doubt as we go forward.

Readers: what do you think of the process outlined here?  What would you do differently?  What did your city do differently when it last faced this choice?
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In a post last week, I discussed the choice of a new chief of police in Pittsburgh.  Nathan Harper, the Chief of the Bureau for seven years, had been forced to resign by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl amidst an ongoing FBI investigation into police department finances.  (Mr. Harper has not been charged; the investigation continues.)  Then, just days later, the Mayor announced that he would not run for re-election in November.  With all of this happening, I was among a group of people who testified before the City Council last week on the selection of the new chief.  There was broad agreement on a central point: outgoing Mayor Ravenstahl should not appoint a new chief.  Instead, an acting chief should serve until the next may makes the permanent appointment.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Monday that he would not appoint a permanent chief to the embattled police bureau during his remaining 10 months in office and instead will leave the choice to his successor.  “It wouldn’t be fair in my mind to the next mayor to not have him or her have the chance to choose their chief, especially given all the recent activity around the bureau,” he said.

According to a story on WESA FM, Pittsburgh public radio, Ravenstahl said he would not appoint the next chief because with ten months left in his term, the decision would be “extremely rushed” and therefore should be left to his successor.

Whatever the reason, I think this is a good decision.  I can’t conceive that we would be able to attract top-quality candidates for the post knowing that the administration will change in the next year.  Who would take the job under those circumstances?  One reader suggested appointing a new chief as soon as possible, and writing a contract that would essentially guarantee the new chief a term that would extend into the new mayor’s term even if the mayor didn’t like it.  But that won’t work.  The chief (as I imagine is true in most places) serves at the pleasure of the mayor as a matter of law.  No contract can change this.

Thus the naming of the new chief will have to wait for the outcome of the mayoral election.  In the meantime, the federal investigation continues, and more revelations appear in the press by the day.  The only thing for sure is that the next chief is likely to start with a mandate for clean up and change.