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Pittsburgh Police OK new contract, as city and union avoid arbitration fight

A Pittsburgh Police cruiser parked outside of the Bureau's headquarters on the city's North Side.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
A Pittsburgh Police cruiser parked outside of the Bureau's headquarters on the city's North Side.

After a year-long negotiation, Pittsburgh Police and the city agreed to a new contract Monday. According to the police union, about 97% of officers voted in favor of the contract, staving off an arbitration process.

Mayor Ed Gainey applauded the agreement in a message posted to Twitter late Monday.

“This contract delivers raises for new officers that will help us recruit and retain the kind of officers that best represent Pittsburgh,” he wrote, noting that the contract raises pay and establishes a new disciplinary framework.

According to Bob Swartzwelder, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge #1, the contract gives officers a roughly 9% pay raise followed by 3% raises promised in 2024 and 2025. The contract will expire at the end of 2025. It also made improvements to the police pension plan, Swartzwelder said.

Officers ratified the contract 572 to 13, with 585 out of a total of 800 members voting. The city is budgeted to employ 900 sworn officers but has struggled with recruitment and retention in recent years.

Swartzwelder applauded the administration’s effort to come to an agreement with officers, though he said the contract was far from perfect.

“We gained some ground," Swartzwelder said. “However, the contract settlement does not go far enough and in my view will not affect recruitment and retention at all.”

Swartzwelder noted that city officers spent years without a pay increase or with a nominal bump while Pittsburgh was under state financial oversight. “We fell so far behind,” he said.

As a result, Swartzwelder argues, some municipalities have been able to attract city-trained officers to their departments for better pay.

“The bureau has become like a farm club," he claimed. "We train and gain some pretty good experience to these officers. Then they take that training and experience to more lucrative jobs."

As a 30-year veteran of the bureau, Swartzwelder said he still makes considerably less than a junior officer with the Allegheny County Police Department. “Even at the end of this agreement, I won't be where they are right now,” he said. “And I'm talking about two- and three-year officers, not veteran officers with my time on the job.”

Swartzwelder worries that even with the pay hikes, officers will continue to leave the force. At a public hearing last month, he reported the bureau lost 17 officers in January alone.

City officials have echoed the union’s concerns, calling for more recruitment to Pittsburgh’s police academy. The Gainey administration has promised two new recruitment classes in the next year, though some worry that won’t do enough to bring the bureau to full strength.

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Elsewhere in the contract is a new set of disciplinary rubric for officers, something the Gainey administration described as “a first” for the city.

Jake Pawlak, Pittsburgh Deputy Mayor and director of the Office of Management and Budget, claims that the new guidelines “will give officers, the administration, and the public certainty, transparency, and consistency” to better understand how officers who violate the law or bureau policies are punished.

But Swartzwelder contends that the contract merely codifies what the department was already doing to address officer transgressions. He claimed the new guidelines simply rank infractions and match them with appropriate punishment.

“We already had that principle, now we just have it in different language,” he said.

Swartzwelder claimed an earlier version of the disciplinary policy was “very unclear, very vague,” and was cited as one of the obstacles to reaching an agreement.

While the FOP expressed concern about officer retention, other city officials took a more optimistic view of the settlement.

Pittsburgh City Councilor Anthony Coghill, who chairs the city’s public safety and wellness committee, said he attended the voting session Monday and saw a remarkable change in attitude among police officers present.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to match the suburbs” in terms of pay, he said. “But already morale has been 100% changed.”

Gainey noted Monday’s agreement marks the first time in two decades that the city avoided negotiating a contract through an arbitration process, in which a three-person panel resolves disputes. He praised his staff for taking into account what officers told them they wanted in a new contract and said he was pleased with the outcome Monday.

“We visited every police zone and unit in the city in order to hear directly from the rank and file members what they would like to see in their next contract,” Gainey said. “I’m proud of this contract and my team who made it happen, and I’d like to thank the [police union] and their leadership who worked together on this agreement for their members and for our city.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.