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Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert to retire

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert is retiring after a half-decade long tenure as the city’s top law-enforcement officer, and a nearly three-decade-long career in the city’s Bureau of Police.

Schubert’s last day will be July 1. Deputy Chief Tom Stangrecki will fill in as acting chief until a permanent replacement is found.

“Following deep reflection and significant discussion with my family, I have come to the decision that it is time to step away from the Chief’s position and allow one of my brothers or sisters in blue the opportunity to serve this great city and this storied institution,” Schubert said in a statement.

“To put on this uniform every morning still fills me with such intense pride, but it's been the opportunity to work with our officers and the community to create a more equitable, safe, and inclusive City of Pittsburgh that has been my greatest passion and motivating force as Chief.”

During a five-minute press conference Friday, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey promised a national search for a replacement, but one guided by community input — a process that he said would be “critical in the work to help build strong community relations.”

He said a team of public safety experts and community members would take six months to prepare a report on the bureau’s needs, and that he hopes to make a hire as quickly as possible after that.

Gainey said he did not ask for Schubert’s resignation, and that a recently released list of transition team recommendations about changes to policing played no role.

“It was his decision to retire and we respect that,” he said. “We were lucky to have him.”

The transition team report urged the city to pursue more alternative approaches to criminal justice, renewed commitments to community-based and bias-free policing. And it concluded that "New leadership is needed to ensure the PBP Chief is committed to the new vision for public safety and being a leader in its implementation."

An audit by City Controller Michael Lamb and the city's police-review board, meanwhile, noted continued problems with racially disproportionate enforcement of marijuana and other offenses.

Schubert’s retirement marks the end of a career that began as a Coraopolis police officer before he joined the Pittsburgh Police as a patrolman in 1993. Through the years, he worked his way through the ranks until being named as chief by then-Mayor Bill Peduto in 2017.

During the course of his career, his duties covered everything from investigations to homeland security. He earned a bachelor's degree in law enforcement and a master's degree in justice administration from Point Park University.

Schubert replaced Cameron McLay, an out-of-town reformer who implemented new accountability measures. But McLay was often at odds with rank-and-file police and departed in late 2016 after a “no-confidence” vote by the police union.

Schubert, with his quarter-century history in the department, was promoted from acting chief, and he maintained many of McLay’s changes. In the statement announcing his departure, he touted his work to implement a reform agenda outlined in President Barack Obama’s Report on 21st Century Policing. He noted in particular a violence-intervention program that drew on social service programs and community leaders to preempt escalations of violence within communities.

Despite those efforts, Schubert’s tenure was marked by back-to-back summers of sustained protest about police accountability — though the protests were most immediately spawned by deaths at the hands of police that happened outside the city. And the death of Jim Rogers after police shocked him with a Taser last fall resulted in the terminations of several officers, as well as sweeping condemnation of the department’s training and accountability procedures.

More recently, city police have been frustrated in their efforts to charge those responsible for a shooting at a North Side Airbnb property, which drew national attention and resulted in the deaths of two teenagers.

Brandi Fisher, the founder and CEO of the Alliance for Police Accountability, said she was “excited for the opportunity to get new leadership. ... We have a grand opportunity to really shift the culture in the city of Pittsburgh when it comes to public safety and policing."

Fischer said Schubert was "a good human being and cares about people, but we don’t think he was the best to lead the police department.” She said he didn't push as hard as McLay had to transform the department.

“We haven’t seen that kind of transformation under Schubert’s leaderships,” she said. “Which is why chief McLay got so much backlash, and got a vote of no confidence, which is also probably why Schubert didn’t push for transformative change.”

Still, Schubert’s tenure witnessed a drop in complaints of police misconduct, accompanied by declining crime rates. He himself took a knee during one march for police accountability, and he was noted for fulfilling a pledge to walk each neighborhood of the city. And even as former public safety director Wendell Hissrich departed as the new mayor took over, Schubert retained his position with no outward sign of a search to replace him.

City Councilor Corey O’Connor, who chairs council's public safety committee, called Schubert “dedicated and well respected. Not just by the department but neighborhoods and communities. After 30 years, the city of Pittsburgh gives credit to him and all he’s done.”

“He’s been a great chief and he’s been a great police officer,” said Gainey on Friday. “He bleeds Black and Gold.”

Katie Blackley and Ariel Worthy contributed to this story.

Updated: May 27, 2022 at 10:39 AM EDT
This story has been updated to include comments from Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and additional details about Chief Scott Schubert's career.
Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.