Pittsburgh police union warns staffing shortage puts public at risk - police chief says there's nothing to see here

PITTSBURGH, PA - As with many large cities across the United States, the Pittsburgh Police Department isn’t immune from an exodus of police officers through resignations and retirements. Last year, 102 officers left the department: 46 resigned outright, 55 retired, and one died of natural causes.

That leaves the department with 735 sworn officers and 12 command staff, which the union says puts the public at risk. 

CBS News Pittsburgh reported that there is a disconnect between the police union and the chief of police, with the union claiming the department is at the lowest staffing levels in some time. 

Union president Robert Swartzwelder of the Fraternal Order of Police issued the following statement: “Citizens of the City of Pittsburgh and its visitors should be alarmed at these numbers. Citizens should be concerned for being overcharged on their taxes regarding police services they are not receiving and general public safety reasons. 

“Visitors should be concerned about slower or absent police response as well as personal safety when they visit the city. 

“The FOP has sounded the alarm for many years regarding this issue while the mayor’s administration and police administration mislead the public into believing all is well in the City.” 


CBS News Pittsburgh reached out to Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto, asking him, “Does this put public safety in jeopardy?” 

“It makes me reevaluate where our resources are directed," Chief Scirotto said.

Scirotto, appointed chief last May, says he has redirected and redeployed officers to serve the city better. He has also eliminated responses to so-called “non-essential” calls while removing officers from administrative roles and returning them to the streets. He claimed that despite the overall number of officers dropping, there are actually more police on the streets. 

“I don’t believe the public’s safety is in jeopardy,” Scirotto said. “I don’t believe our officers’ safety is in jeopardy. If I did believe that, I wouldn’t stand in front of you and tell you otherwise.” 

The current shortage of manpower is said to be caused in part by former Mayor Bill Peduto, who, in deference to the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020, froze police hiring. It took his successor, Ed Gainey, around 18 months to implement a new recruit class. Unfortunately, the hiring hasn’t been able to keep up with the departures. 

The city has authorized two new police recruit classes, with the first graduates hitting city streets in the spring. Scirotto said the city would add three additional classes to boost police personnel, which he believes will offset departures. 

“There’s no reason we can’t outpace departures in 2024,” Scirotto said. He told the outlet that the public's safety should be assured with his reallocation of personnel and the recruit classes. 

According to The Tribune-Review, Scirotto plans on hiring a Street Crime Team and a dozen young adults as “community service aides” while changing the work schedule to a 10-hour, four-day-per-week schedule for most officers. 

During a Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board meeting last month, Scirotto said the street crime unit would consist of 18 officers, two sergeants, and one lieutenant. 

“This is meant to be my number one strategic initiative, which is the reduction of violence, of gun violence, in our city,” Scirotto said. 

Scirotto’s plan meshes with Gainey’s “Plan for Peace,” which calls for more civilians to engage with the community on non-emergency police matters. 

Swartzwelder complains the timing of the reorganization amid staffing challenges is not wise. “You want to do a reorganization when you’re still losing people? That becomes problematic,” he said. 

It should be noted that as of December, 210 Pittsburgh officers have met the 20-year requirement to be eligible for a pension, Swartzwelder continued. 

That concerns the executive director of the city’s Citizen Police Review Board. “If 210 officers walk off the job tomorrow, which they’re entitled to do, we’re screwed,” said Beth Pittinger. 

The staffing realignment results from a study released in July, a so-called “Matrix study” conducted by the Matrix Consulting Group, a California-based company. Swartswelder complains the city ignored one of the critical findings of the study, which praised the department’s “exceptional” response times. 

“That study was a hot mess, it was a joke, and it didn’t analyze reality, didn’t analyze all the events the city has,” Swartzwelder said. “If you’re overstaffed, why are you forcing anybody to do anything?” 

Pittinger remains concerned about the reorganization. 

“What’s his plan to implement this?” she asked. “Too much at one time just leads to institutional chaos. And more people will jump ship. I think they’re good goals,” she added, “but I’m not sure we’ll survive them.” 

Lee Schmidt, Public Safety Director, defended the timing of Scirotto’s plan. “When you have limited resources is when you have to prioritize those resources,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking to do, ensuring we have officers where there’s the highest need…you put your resources where they’re needed at the time.” 

“It’s a matter of making public safety smarter, more efficient, more proactive,” Schmidt continued. 

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