Sunday, February 4, 2007

Police Cost Recovery Plan: Assistance Requested

A few weeks ago, when the Heinz Field handcuffing of Interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was still fresh, new, and interesting -- and admittedly, it's beginning to lose all three of these qualities -- a few readers left some very interesting comments both here and on other local political blogs. To those of you who left those comments, I want you to know that I really haven't been ignoring you. But the issue that those readers brought up is rather complicated and buried deep within the inner workings of city government. I didn't -- and still don't -- feel that I really know enough about it to write about it with my usual degree of depth and understanding. I am hoping that some of you out there might be able to point me to some further resources that will make the story a bit more transparent for me.

The topic at hand concerns how city police officers are hired and paid by private employers to provide security, almost always in uniform, during the hours when they are not on duty for the City of Pittsburgh. Such arrangements are quite common in our city, as they are in many other jurisdictions. For police officers, these extra-duty jobs provide a way for them to earn an often significant amount of money on top of their police salaries. So it's a good deal for them. But these kinds of arrangements can also be a good deal for the rest of us, since they increase the amount of visible police pressence on the streets, particularly in very locations -- bars, clubs, sporting events, concerts, retail stores, etc. -- where trouble tends to concentrate.

The problem here is not that city police officers are permitted to be employed in this manner. Instead, the concerns center around questions of legal liability, other costs, and who should bear the burden of paying for these things. Whenever a police officer works in uniform, no matter who is employing them at the time, they can do things which inflict financial costs upon city taxpayers. Sometimes these costs are fairly minor, such as a replacing an empty canister of pepper spray. Other times, the costs can become astronomical, such as when the city is named as a defendant in a lawsuit stemming from an extra-duty officer's use of physical or deadly force. Because city taxpayers face these costs whenever a police officer works for a private employer, it seems legitimate to ask that the city receive some amount of money cover its financial exposure.

This issue first came to my attention a small number comments were made in response to one of my own posts. For those of you who don't wish to go diving into the comments to pull out all of the relevant bits, I will list them all here:

smittyfromtheflats: ... do you think there is any connection between Luke getting cuffed, then released; the city creating a cost recovery program for extra duty police work, and Luke discontinuing the program; and Sgt Fisher releasing Luke, and running the most lucrative extra duty work program?

Anonymous (1): I think Jeremy Boren, Rich Lord or someone else from the MSM should look into why the cost recovery program was killed by the Luke/Denny/Yarone administration. Not only are such programs common in other jurisdictions, but the City faces significant liability when its police officers work these special details... the officers may be working a private event for the Steelers, but if there's an incident -- the city will be the one sued due to the officers' conduct. Don't get me wrong -- we need a public safety presence at these type of events, but why should a cash-strapped city have all of the liability?

Anonymous (2): I agree w/ Anon above - Jeremy & Rich could ask these questions:
1. What's the purpose of a cost recovery program?
2. How much money could the City make if it employed such a program?
3. How much did the City make in the past?
4. When was the program halted?
5. How much has the City lost since the program was halted?
6. How much does Sgt. Fisher stand to lose if the City employs the cost recovery program?
7. When did the administration meet with Fisher & others about the program?


Anonymous (3): here's a link to a December 2005 article about the City's plan for managing the details. if this initiative was part of the City's Act 47 Plan, how did Luke/Denny pull the plug on the plan unilaterally?
This last comment provides a link to a Post-Gazette article describing an attempt by former Chief of Police Robert McNeilly to recover some of these costs. I'll discuss it in some detail later on. But for the moment, it makes sense to follow a string of similar, but far more detailed remarks made in response to a post on 2 Political Junkies:

Anonymous (4): Hmmm, so why is the FOP being so quiet? Either their officer was in fact acting up (which no one is buying) or the officers who were working Steelers' security don't want the FOP to come out against the interim mayor...hmmm...wonder why they are bending over backward to protect their boy...probably worth looking into...

Anonymous (5): somebody should [ask] Luke why he killed the secondary employment policy that had been developed/proposed by the O'Connor administration.

Anonymous (6): Fisher makes money scheduling security for the games. He hires other officers like Hoehn to work the games. If the City took over scheduling and collected a fee to cover its costs, Fisher would lose big money and officers like Hoehn wouldn't be guaranteed a spot at every game.

Did Luke stop the City from implementing this program right around the time reporters were asking Luke and Fisher about Luke's behavior? Answer: Yes


smittyfromtheflats: two questions... "why he killed the secondary employment policy" and "Would the killing of the policy have affected Fisher or Hoehn?

The second question must be answered first. Yes on both counts. Fisher supervises one of the extra duty cabals. He draws a percentage of all money paid out. He is the employment specialist. Hoehn on the other hand makes great money working the extra details, Fisher controls the flow of extra duty work Hoehn can have. Hoehn needs Fisher. Fisher on the other hand would not be reaping his piles of $$$ if the program was handled by the city.

Under Ravenstahl, the cost recovery program was shelved after discussions with FOP members who claimed that they could better manage the program. Who benefitted directly from this being handled by guys like Officer Fisher rather than the city? Who else but Officer Fisher. Now who is standing up for Luke; the same Officer Fisher. Is this a quid pro quo? In any way, shape or form, does this constitute a payoff? Does this stink to high heaven?? Does this answer question 1?


Anonymous (7): It certainly does answer question #1. Now how much did the city lose when Luke did this? I imagine it's a huge chunk of change. The County charges a 22% cost recovery fee for its personnel working off-duty employment. There must be 2 dozen cops working every Pirate and Steelers game!

smittyfromtheflats: $500,000 rough estimate.
These comments certainly suggest that there is a story here that is well worth developing further. But there isn't a great wealth of information out there for me to delve into.

The City of Pittsburgh does seem to have a procedure in place to recover its costs when on-duty police officers and other city employees are used to handle a special event. The process is governed by Chapter 471 of the City Code. In mid-2005, City Council approved a resolution which laid out exactly the city would charge for providing various kinds of services to those who wanted to organize a special event of some kind. The city later created a more extensive document which described all of the intricacies of this cost-recovery plan. I also found (in Microsoft Word format) a 2007 version of the application to hold a "Special Event", so it would appear that this policy is still in effect, although I have no idea if this on-duty cost recovery process is ever waived for some events. If so, then it might be interesting to know who has benefited from such waivers in the past.

All of these items, however, seem to focus exclusively on the costs of having on-duty police officers working on city time, and not off-duty cops working for private employers. At the moment, it's very hard to find out what has happened to the cost recovery plan for off-duty employment. In late 2005, as reported in the Post-Gazette article mentioned above by Anonymous (3), then-Chief of Police Robert McNeilly made some moves to bring the off-duty-employment of city police officers under city control. The idea was that private employers would contact the city directly when they wanted to hire off-duty police officers. The city would require the payment of certain fees to cover its costs, and would also be responsible for finding the off-duty police officers needed to handle the private employer's requirements. The employer would pay the city for these services, and the officer's portion of that payment would be added into their regular city paycheck.

All of these developments took place just weeks before Mayor Bob O'Connor was due to be sworn in and Chief McNeilly was due to leave office. The full implementation of the plan was not due to happen until May 2006, five months into the O'Connor administration. And the story seems to come to an end at that point.

From what one can tell from reading the Post-Gazette story, much of what Chief McNeilly was proposing seemed to make a decent amount of sense. But the O'Connor administration was decidedly non-committal, even skeptical, about implementing the plan after it took office. According to what the commenters quoted above tell us, however, Mayor O'Connor may have overcome this skepticism and made some moves to implement this system before he was hospitalized a few months later. The commenters then go on to suggest that the cost recovery plan was finally eliminated by Interim Mayor Raventahl's people after he took control, but I have no way to know if that part of the story is true.

I honestly don't know what happened to this cost recovery plan. It seems have been a common sense idea that most of the key players were largely willing to go along with. Based on what was written in the Post-Gazette, it didn't seem to have a great deal of union opposition to overcome. Even the police officers who manage some of the presumably more lucrative off-duty employment contracts, such as Sgt. Mike Fisher -- who handles these arrangements for PNC Park and Heinz Field -- indicated that they were not violently against the proposal. While he admitted to having some "mixed feelings" about the specifics of the plan, Sgt. Fisher also noted that it wouldn't be "the end of the world" if he no longer performed this role at the stadiums.

Without any strong opposition to it, why hasn't this cost recovery plan ever been put in place? From what was published in the newspaper, it might have brought in a fair amount of money -- perhaps as much as $1 million or so per year -- for our city's coffers. But apparently, from what these commenters are telling the rest of us, it never got off the ground.

I would like to know why not. I would like to write a decent post about this story. But I don't really have enough information to work with. And that, dear readers, is where you come in.

Some of you seem to be very well informed about this issue, and you should be able to fill in the significant gaps in my own understanding of what has taken place. It's still not clear to me what decisions have been made, when these decisions took place, and who played a role in making them. Has the cost recovery program been deliberately shelved, or is it simply one more item -- like the city ethics board -- which Master Ravenstahl's administration seemingly lost track of when they came into office?

If anyone would prefer to pass along their knowledge without publicly replying with a comment to this post, you can always email me directly at turner.richmond@gmail.com. I don't normally like to pester readers for information this way, but without your help I don't see how I can come up with anything else to say on this topic.

I look forward to hearing from you, and to diving a bit further into this issue. Thanks for your help.

UPDATE #1: A reader who is far more observant than I am has pointed out that the Post-Gazette did run a brief story when the Interim Mayor Ravenstahl killed the cost recovery plan back in November. I don't know how I missed it at the time, and I really don't know how I missed it when I was searching for these kind of things over the weekend.

UPDATE #2: Here are two more articles from late-2005, right before Mayor O'Connor took office. City Council did eventually agree to spend nearly $31,000 to purchase a special computer system to manage these extra-duty work assignments for the police. True to their Democratic-party roots, it should be noted that Council voted against this computer system before they voted for it.

UPDATE #3: An article from the more distant past highlights a decision by the police union to suspend these off-duty details for a certain period of time. They were evidently trying to send the city a message about how unwise it would be to lay off police officers. I have to confess that I don't really see the logic here; I guess the absence of off-duty cops was supposed to drive up the number of calls for service for those who were on-duty, and thus make a statement about how necessary the police are to public safety. But it is one more example of how the police union has a fair bit of control over these extra-duty work arrangements.

UPDATE #4: This article, which showed up during the firestorm surrounding Dennis Regan's nomination as Public Safety Director, has a few interesting details about the computer system which is meant to control off-duty assignments. [h/t to the Burgh Report]

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although I don't have intimate knowledge of most of the particulars on this issue, I know that the cost recovery program makes a great deal of sense. The terms "cost recovery" mean exactly that - the City recovers money for its risk and inevitable costs (w/comp, lawsuits, et seq.) On the other hand, it is impossible to come up with a legitimate reason to dismiss the program. As a practical matter, only a few individuals benefit while the taxpayers lose. It's an important story, especially during an election year and the incentive for buying off union support. The back-slapping from the FOP (for a Mayor who so easily trashed a rank and file officers with an improbable version of the stadium incident) appears to be more than coincidental. Tony

smittyfromtheflats said...

Admiral,
a theory...Luke becomes Mayor...Regan becomes Luke's top dog...some cops approach Denny and say,"hey we took care of the kid.Help us out!" So a special meeting's held. Among the cast of character's is Mayor Luke,his Major domo Regan,and several cops with a desire to see the cost recovery program go down the drain.No legal counsel is present,no one from Act 47 or the ICA.Just a bunch of good ole guys helping each other out.

The boys talk about all the money that can be made if"they" was handling the program again."WINK WINK". After the meeting,the boys are back in business.Luke's made some new friends. Heck,a kid from the North Side can never know enough cops.And Denny,why he's in line to be the next Public Safety Die-rector.It's the American Dream.

Patrick said...

Who actually benefits? The cops themselves, or the bar owners (or other entities that hire off-duty cops) by way of not paying additional money to the city?

The city government may be a loser financially (still unclear at this point), but it doesn't appear that the cops are the primary beneficiaries of eliminating what amounts to a surcharge on the business that wants the cops working their door.

Richmond K. Turner said...

When I was working on this post, I missed an article which appeared in the P-G back in November. It has a few quotes from the Interim Mayor at the time that the program was killed off.

It seems clear that the employers were not very happy with the idea of paying more to cover the city's costs. It also appears that at least one portion of the cost-recovery plan was put into effect. Private employers now have to go through the city to hire off-duty police officers.

It rather sounds like that was the central thing that all parties, including the union, could agree on. Evidently the FOP membership as a whole wasn't enormously happy that off-duty hiring was being controlled by a handful of the union's members. Now, everything is centrally controlled and posted on an internal website for anyone who may be looking for extra money.

What's really astonishing is just how little money was going to be tacked onto the cost of hiring an off-duty police officer. $4 or $5 doesn't seem like very much to me. That doesn't seem to equal the 22% that the county police charge to cover their costs, for example.

Who benefits from this decision? Obviously, the employers do. The police officers themselves may also benefit, but only indirectly; if the cost of hiring a city police officer were higher, then there could be fewer off-duty jobs available to them. But the amount they themselves earn for each hour of work would have remained the same, regardless of whether the plan was put into effect or not.

Anonymous said...

The cops may have to notify the City that they are working details under the Ravenstahl plan, but the cop-managers are still, to this day, managing most of the details and collecting a scheduling fee of 5-20%. The cop-managers don't pay for the cops' uniforms, equipment, training, lawyers, etc., the City does. Just think, 80 Pirates games x 10 inside security cops x 5 hours of work x $38/hr. x 5% - 10% scheduling fee = $7-15,000 just for scheduling cops to work the games! And that's just for Pirates games! The general public doesn't benefit from some cop standing guard in the stands at PNC park.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Well, the public would benefit in the unlikely event that (a) any crowd of any size actually came to a Pirates game, (b) they stayed awake long enough to notice the lethargic playing style of the home team, (c) they became enraged that they had actually paid to be there, shocked that the team wasn't all that good, and (d) they started to riot in the stands.

Then the public would benefit from having a cop around, just so that these people wouldn't get too loud and interrupt the other fans' nap time.

But seriously, the November article by Rich Lord really makes it sound like the city has taken over scheduling through its computer system. Are you saying that they haven't, and that the same officers who used to hire the staff these extra details are still in business?

Anonymous said...

The City is only being notified of who is working off-duty and where for these assignments. The City is only collecting a fee for "special events", a fraction of off-duty work - d/n include sporting events, concerts, bars, weddings, construction. Cops were told in the fall that the City would take everything over, but the cops say that nothing has changed and that people like Fisher, a cop named Novak and a lt named Atkins are still the capos in charge of big details. You could contact Marlene Cassidy's brother Frank Rende, he works for Fisher and Novak...

Richmond K. Turner said...

So let me see if I have this straight. McNeilly wanted the police to centralize all of the hiring of off-duty police officers. There were at least two parts to his plan. First, he wanted to set up a computer system which would advertise all of the available extra-duty details to every officer in the department, allowing anyone -- not just those who were buddies with one of the "capos" -- to sign up for these jobs as they wanted. The second part was to charge a fee to all private employers to cover the city's cost.

From what you are telling me, it sounds like neither of these two goals has been reached. I already knew that the cost-recovery thing didn't get off the ground, but most of what I can find says that they did set up the computer system that McNeilly wanted.

City Council voted to approve the purchase of the $31,000 system in late 2005. Of course, Pittsburgh City Council being true to form, they voted against the system 5 days before they voted for it.

Are the big off-duty jobs that these "capos" still have control of even listed on this system? Is this system being used for anything at all?

Smitty said...

Admiral
call the city..tell them you want to hire an off duty officer for some security work and see where it gets ya.

Anonymous said...

The system isn't being used for the "big jobs" (Pirates, Steelers, Pens, basketball, concerts...) or for bars, etc. They have a computer system + 2 cops running the program, but only a fraction of the jobs are being scheduled through the system. All of McNeilly and Costa's efforts to make the system uniform were wasted once Luke fell for the lines given by the businesses (the same lines Murphy and O'Connor didn't fall for)...and his new public safety director...on behalf of his friend Frank Rende...ridiculous, but true...

Anonymous said...

Council originally voted against it because the former FOP president, Gratton, a friend of Denny Regan and Frank Rende did an end run - council remembered that Gratton was no longer the FOP pres. and changed their vote when the new FOP pres. told them he supported it.

Smitty said...

the FOP guy is Gene Gratton isn't his brother Ed Gratton one of Luke's big money guys?

Anonymous said...

ed gratton is tied to a firm that got hired as a city pension consultant by luke/denny

Grant W. Stapleton said...

Greetings all. I am just a newbie to this post, and actually just got blogging myself several days ago.. specifically to address this issue that you all have been discussing so well.

Everyone here makes interesting points, and I am going to comb through all the specifics because there is really some insightful stuff here.

But for now, I want to jump in and let everyone know what the real deal is here. FORGET cost recovery plans, the hypothetical "value" of having armed police thugs with arrest powers watching your every move on Saturday night, and so on. The REAL issue here is that off-duty police working these details is ILLEGAL as HELL, the FOP knows it, and the mayor and chief are scared to death to do anything for fear of losing the FOP and their friends votes (and whatever money is being funneled into the political system.

Pardon the length here, but this stuff has volume... The Law says that this is "guard work": Here is the law governing guards - (The Private Detective Act of 1953)

(e) The term "patrol agency" shall mean and include any agency and/or individuals (including therein security guards, uniformed or nonuniformed) employed full time or part time, on a temporary or permanent basis, who, for any consideration whatsoever, patrols, guards, protects, monitors, regulates, secures or watches over persons and/or property, either real or personal.

(a) No person, partnership, association or corporation, shall engage in the business of private detective, or the business of investigator, or the business of watch, guard or patrol agency, for the purpose of furnishing guards or patrolmen or other persons to protect persons or property, or to prevent the theft of the unlawful taking of goods, wares and merchandise, or to prevent the misappropriation or concealment of goods, wares or merchandise, money, bonds, stocks, documents, and other articles of value, for hire or reward, or advertise his or their business to be that of detective, or of a detective agency, or investigator, or watch, guard or patrol agency, notwithstanding the name or title used in describing such agency, or notwithstanding the fact that other functions and services may also be performed for fee, hire or reward, without having first obtained a license so to do as hereinafter provided.
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OK? After readi8ng this, there should be NO question in any mind that these private citizen, off-duty police who are not licensed as private detectives - are acting as ILLEGAL guards, under this definition, right?? The fact that the uniforms are police uniforms, and that they have "permission" to do this illegal activity by the Chief does not make it legal, it only makes it WORSE because the Chief has in writing said the off duty officers could violate state law! IN UNIFORM!!
----------------------------------

Now here is the real clincher - read the following, especially the last long paragraph, and understand that in actuality, and by their own name for this guard work (OFF-DUTY detail)this private employment can in no way be called "official" police work, and is ILLEGAL as hell for them to contract out to the private sector to do this guard work.
-----------------------------------

§ 25. Application of Act
Nothing in this act shall apply to any detective officer or man belonging to the Pennsylvania State Police, or to the police force of any county, city, borough, township, or incorporated town, or any employe of such State Police, or such police force, appointed or elected by due authority of law, WHILE engaged in the performance of their official duties, nor to any person, partnership, association, or corporation or any bureau or agency, whose business is exclusively the furnishing of information as to the business and financial standing and credit responsibility of persons, partnerships, associations, or corporations, or as to the personal habits and financial responsibility of applicants for insurance, indemnity bonds, or commercial credit, or of any claimants under insurance policies, and whose business does not embrace other activities described in section 2 of this act (§12 of this title - Definitions), nor to any corporation duly authorized by the Commonwealth to operate a fire alarm protection business, or to any person while engaged in the business of adjuster for an insurance company, nor to any person regularly employed as special agent, detective or investigator exclusively by one employer in connection with the affairs of that employer only, nor to any charitable or philanthropic society or association duly incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth and which is organized and maintained for the public good and not for private profit, nor shall anything in this act contained be construed to affect in any way attorneys or counselors at law in the regular practice of their profession, but such exemption shall not enure to the benefit of any employe or representative of such attorney or counselor at law who is not employed solely, exclusively and regularly by such attorney or counselor at law, nor to persons in the exclusive employment of common carriers subject to regulation by the interstate commerce commission or the Public Utility Commission of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, nor any telephone, telegraph or other telecommunications company subject to regulation by the Federal Communications Commission or the Public Utility Commission of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or an employe of any such company while performing any investigatory activities engaged in by his employer, or investigators in the employment of credit bureaus.

No person, partnership, association corporation, or any BUREAU or agency, exempted hereunder from the application of this act, shall perform any manner of detective service as described in section 2 (§ 12 of this title - Definitions) hereof for any other person, partnership, association, corporation, bureau or agency, whether for fee, hire, reward, other compensation, remuneration, or consideration, or as an accommodation without fee, reward, or remuneration, or by a reciprocal arrangement whereby such services are exchanged on request of parties thereto. The commission of a single act prohibited by this act shall constitute a violation thereof.

__________________________________

Other Pennsylvania legal decisions state that any police officer with arrest powers is INELIGIBLE to get a private detective license .. because he has police powers, and access to information that a non police officer does not.

I predict that Pittsburgh Officialdom is in for a REAL heavy shitstorm when all these facts come out in the wash.

let's keep this discussion alove and kicking.

My sincere thanks to Richmand K Turner for the invite to butt in a bit. Please Y'All come visit me as well.

Anonymous said...

Grant: The key word in that statute is "agency" - so, while cops are definitely allowed to work as off-duty security guards, it is questionable whether cops are allowed to operate as "security agencies".

Admiral: Don't underestimate the childish antics of Denny Regan and Frank Rende. Seriously, the man brought nothing but self-interest (including the interests of his girlfriend and her brother) to the table - he didn't want to be king so he could implement good government objectives he had been dreaming of over the years...As Dom Costa said in his statement, Denny was trying to stop the city from doing cost recovery as early as March, on behalf of his friend Frank. While the rest of us were concerned about Denny as Public Safety Director for obvious reasons, Denny was salivating over the opportunity to play his childish little games on his friend Frank's behalf and stop the program. Luke through his comrade Denny and his secretary Marlene a bone. Even the FOP didn't expect that the entire program would be wiped out.

Anonymous said...

McNeilly's estimate of $500,000 is based on a 10% cost recovery fee. If the City used the County rate, they would more than double that figure. A distressed municipality just walks away from a million dollars?

Smitty said...

where are our state overseers...where are the Act 47 and ICA members?where is their indignation?where is their financial oversight?And finally where in heaven is Bill Peduto on this matter....??

Grant W. Stapleton said...

Anon: No, the police personnel are SPECIFICALLY not allowed to do this work, unless it is for a legitimate licensee. The Bureau is mentioned only AFTER "No Individual" .. the off-duty oficer wishing to contract his/her services would be an individual, in criminal conspiracy with the Bureau, which "authorizes" their impersonating an on-duty officer by using the police uniform.