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Politics & Government

Acting Public Safety Director Says He Has To Build Trust Between Police, Community

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is one step closer to filling out his administration, as City Council Wednesday held hearings on the mayor’s recent Public Safety and Management & Budget appointments.

For more than two hours, Acting Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar took notes as he was peppered with questions, concerns and suggestions from council members.

Those suggestions included the creation of a police athletic league for youth, additional emergency medical services for North Side neighborhoods, ideas for dealing with blighted neighborhoods, hiring a grant writer specifically for Public Safety, and the development of safe places to take minors who are picked up for curfew violations.

Overarching the discussion was the need for Bucar and the future police chief to restore trust between the community and the Bureau of Police.

“I have to build community relations so that the community starts to trust the police department,” Bucar said. “In those areas where they don’t trust the police department. I have to work extra hard because I have to turn that around. I have to build that trust.”

Councilman Dan Gilman reminded Bucar and the council that the public safety director oversees not only the police, but also the fire department, Emergency Medical Services, the Bureau of Building Inspection and animal control, and said he’d like to see a holistic approach to public safety that brings other city departments into the loop.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith admitted that she was fond of former Public Safety Director Michael Huss, and told Bucar, “I didn’t want to like you, but you are absolutely fabulous to work with.”

Sam Ashbaugh, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, enjoyed a significantly more succinct appointment hearing. He said this would be his third “tour of duty” for the city of Pittsburgh, having previously worked for Councilwoman Darlene Harris and the Office of Management and Budget.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak asked Ashbaugh about his vision for the office, and he responded by saying he wanted to help all city departments work more efficiently. One of the ways he can do that, he said, is by working closely with the Office of Innovation and Performance to update and streamline the software being used by the city.

“We still use spreadsheets to develop and execute the budget,” Ashbaugh said. “That’s not a good way of managing a $500 million enterprise.”

Ashbaugh also said he wants to look further into the future to anticipate and prepare for the city’s capital needs.

“We have an amended recovery plan, but we need to take a serious look at long-term capital and infrastructure,” Ashbaugh said. “Not just beyond five or six years, but longer term. What are the needs? Where do we need to invest?”

The appointments of Ashbaugh and Bucar will receive a final vote at Tuesday’s Council meeting.