Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gainey picks Larry Scirotto as nominee for Pittsburgh Police chief

Larry Scirotto speaks at a lectern.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Larry Scirotto was appointed acting Pittsburgh police chief by Mayor Ed Gainey.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey has selected Larry Scirotto as his nominee for chief of the Pittsburgh Police. The announcement caps off a months-long process to replace former chief Scott Schubert.

At a news conference, Scirotto — who has worked previously for the bureau — described the nomination as a "dream come true." He said he knows Pittsburgh well: “I know its strengths. I know its weaknesses.”

Scirotto pledged to evaluate and reorganize the police bureau in the coming months to maximize its resources. He said that process will be informed by a $180,000 study commissioned by the city last year. Officials have yet to publicize the findings in the study.

“We're reevaluating every process, every unit, everybody's roles,” Scirotto promised. “There will be obvious changes … to ensure that we are appropriately aligning our resources to best serve this city.”

The nomination is a pivotal moment for the Gainey administration, as police reform was a key piece of Gainey’s successful 2021 campaign for office.

“[Scirotto’s] deep ties in this city, insider knowledge of the bureau and his outsider perspective makes him the right choice to be chief of police and to continue on with our right policing strategy,” Gainey said Wednesday.

As chief, Scirotto will make $180,000, according to officials. That’s up from the $148,847 allotted for the position in the city’s current budget.

Scirotto’s past

Scirotto rose to the rank of assistant chief over the course of two decades in Pittsburgh before he left in 2018. He was appointed chief of police in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in 2021 before he was fired less than a year later. The city accused Scirotto of using discriminatory hiring practices that favored non-white candidates. In a lawsuit filed in March against the city, Scirotto claims he was wrongfully terminated.

Scirotto defended his promotion choices on Wednesday.

“When I was hired in Fort Lauderdale, I was hired to build a diverse organization, and that started with the leadership team," he said. "I was hired to create a fair environment where all of the officers within the Fort Lauderdale Police Department felt they had the same opportunities. And that's what I did.”

Scirotto said Wednesday that while he initially sought reinstatement to his position in Florida, "I wouldn’t consider it” today. He said his focus is on Pittsburgh.

Other concerns have been raised about Scirotto’s priorities after it was revealed he has also worked as a referee for NCAA basketball. NCAA referees are part-time. When asked about whether Scirotto would still be allowed to referee games, Gainey said Scirotto agreed to leave the referee job.

“We had a conversation about this, and at this time he will not be doing that,” pledged Gainey.

A long process

Scirotto’s hiring comes nearly a year after the previous chief announced his plan to retire. Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert hung up his badge last July to launch an anti-gun violence foundation. Thomas Stangrecki has served as acting chief for nearly 10 months.

Officials within the Gainey administration have said they didn’t want to rush the process to fill the key public safety position. The city hired California-based professional consulting firm Public Sector Search & Consulting to assist in the search. City officials also enlisted police union representatives and community members to offer their input about the finalists.

“We wanted to ensure that we had the right chief for the future of the bureau,” Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said.

Public safety officials were joined at the Wednesday news conference by the community members consulted during the search. Miracle Jones, director of advocacy and policy with 1Hood Media, said she was impressed with Scirotto’s experience and “his ability to explain policy, his plans for the future, and the understanding that there are changes that need to be made and how to do it in a realistic, efficient and effective way.”

University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, who also served on the community panel, said concerns about Scirotto’s past are overblown.

“That should not tell you that this person couldn't be a great police chief and a good fit,” he said. “If you don't have somebody complaining about you in this very difficult job, you probably haven't been doing it.”

Harris, a veteran law enforcement expert, also served on the panel that selected Cameron McLay as Pittsburgh’s police chief in 2014 under former Mayor Bill Peduto. McLay was directed to bring reform to the police bureau and is credited with implementing policies that contributed to a more than 50% drop in lawsuits against officers. But McLay’s brief tenure was also marked with controversy as he struggled to earn support among the police union. After a vote of “no confidence,” McLay resigned.

Harris recalled that the last time he served on a hiring panel, the city had six finalists to choose from. This time there were three.

Harris argued that the Gainey administration allowed the community panel "more close-up exposure to some of these candidates and their qualifications," than the previous administration.

Other community members on the hiring panel include Reverend Cornell Jones, Michelle McMurray, Monica Ruiz and Jake Voelker.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

A tough task ahead

Not unlike McLay’s directive, Scirotto will be responsible for implementing public safety policies set by the Gainey administration. The mayor’s “Plan for Peace” initiative focuses on community relations and efforts to include social workers when responding to certain incidents.

Scirotto stressed the importance of rank-and-file input when creating new public safety policies.

“I'll ask everybody that is a member of the PBP to think outside the box… and when we're engaging with community… be creative … be imaginative,” he said.

Scirotto will also have to contend with dwindling police staff and worries from police union leaders about the city’s ability to replace officers who leave for the suburbs or retire. He said the priority will be putting more officers through the academy to make up for the losses.

“It's just being intentional about having academy classes to fill those voids and then more importantly, doing our best to create an environment where officers feel respected and valued,” he said.

Another key priority for Scirotto is addressing gun violence in Pittsburgh. He cited a strategy using data and intelligence as one method of preventing violence with “precision policing.”

Acting chief for now

Scirotto will serve as acting chief until members of Pittsburgh’s City Council weigh in on the nominee. While some members offered their support Wednesday, others are holding back on their reactions for now.

Council must approve the mayor’s nominee before Scirotto becomes the chief permanently. He will be appointed acting chief for now.

City Council president Theresa Kail-Smith pledged a rigorous public review of the police chief nominee last month. She said Wednesday that council’s interview with Scirotto has yet to be scheduled.

Kail Smith said she remembers Scirotto fondly from his time as a Pittsburgh officer. “I’ve worked with Larry Scirotto in Zone 3 … we had a good working relationship at the time,” Kail Smith said.

She added that she’s eager to hear what his plans are for the police bureau.

Councilor Bruce Kraus, who also had a working relationship with Scirotto during his time at Zone 3, said he was very supportive of Scirotto as the nominee. Kraus claimed that Scirotto was always available to “take the call” to handle issues in his council district.

He’s optimistic that Scirotto’s experience away from the bureau will also help the department.

“I think he'll bring a perspective to the department that will be a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Councilor Anthony Coghill said he’s waiting to speak directly with Scirotto before offering an opinion on him as a nominee. But he shared concerns about his firing in Fort Lauderdale and his extracurricular activities as a referee, arguing that the police chief must be “fully dedicated to the job.”

He added that he’s looking forward to council’s "own process” which will include a public interview before members take a vote.

Sources previously told WESA the city had three finalists: former Pittsburgh officers Scirotto and Jason Lando and former Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee.

Scirotto’s nomination puts to bed widespread concerns that the city would hire former Boise chief Ryan Lee, who resigned his position in Idaho at the request of the city’s mayor.

That request came after Lee seriously injured a sergeant in the department during a staff meeting, according to the Idaho Statesman newspaper. A lawsuit filed by the sergeant claims Lee broke his neck. Ultimately an investigation determined there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Lee on felony charges “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A North Idaho prosecuting attorney described it as a "close call" to the local outlet, BoiseDev.

Another candidate for the role was former Pittsburgh officer Jason Lando. He previously served as the Zone 5 commander in the East End and is currently the chief of police in Frederick, Md. Lando has told multiple news outlets that he hasn’t received word from the city about his status as a contender for the job.

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.