Who’ll Man the Police Desk?

Under a proposed state law, retired police officers could return to work on a part-time basis (800 hours a year) without jeopardizing their pension benefits. Such a bill might be welcome news to a cash-strapped city like Pittsburgh, which is always looking for ways to effectively deploy its 900-member police force.

Retired officers could perform various functions: "monitor surveillance cameras, man the front desks at police stations, staff the property room, perform confidential clerical work, take reports over the telephone, transport mail from station to station, work missing-person cases, run background checks on police recruits, teach courses at the police academy, operate the citizens police academy, help with traffic control and serve as community liaisons", according to one of the City’s commanders. Do that, and more police could be on the streets.

"To me, it seems like a can’t-lose proposition all the way around" according to the commander.

The only question: weren’t civilians supposed to be performing these tasks? The Act 47 team put forth data that showed Pittsburgh was very high on its ratio of sworn-to-civilian personnel (13.7) and said that "this data indicates there are opportunities for civilianization in Pittsburgh’s Police Bureau-placing civilian employees so the latter can be reassigned to patrol and more traditional police activities". Presumably the team meant non-police personnel, even retired, when they pushed for civilians.

Or perhaps since the state law was silent on permitting retirees to work part-time the Act 47 team never considered the option. Maybe there is room for both, but it is a safe bet that the wage for a civilian is going to be less than what would be for a retired police officer. The point of getting civilians into those positions was to save money, especially on overtime and premium pay.

And the City should have to show some major commitment to following through on the original Act 47 plan for civilianization which, as of the 2009 revision, was plodding along very slowly. Where the expectation existed for 38 civilian opportunities only 2 officers had actually been redeployed.