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Local officials question Gainey's police staffing study

A Pittsburgh Police hat.
Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

A police staffing study commissioned by the Gainey administration has come under increasing scrutiny. Both the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office and Pittsburgh City Council launched independent investigations last week to learn how the city procured a contract with Matrix Consulting Group.

The city paid Matrix Consulting Group $180,000 last year to study Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Police, its staffing levels and response times. The study found that the city has an adequate number of police officers — despite the bureau employing about 100 fewer officers than it’s budgeted for — and suggested patrol units be significantly decreased. The Gainey administration dismissed several suggestions made in the study in favor of following the philosophy of the city’s newly installed police chief, Larry Scirotto.

But how the city selected Matrix Consulting Group, and when the consultant began its work, is the subject of an investigation launched by District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office late last week. Zappala claimed his office had heard concerns from “public and private officials pertaining to the city’s public safety,” but did not elaborate on those concerns.

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Zappala’s investigation comes on the heels of Pittsburgh City Council launching its own inquiry into the contract.

Council, which has to approve all city contracts, greenlit an agreement with Matrix in June of 2022. But according to the final report released by the city, the consultant began its work with Pittsburgh in March of last year.

City Council authorized the city solicitor to provide a legal opinion about the propriety of the agreement. Council also voted last week to require the City Controller’s office to review the city’s competitive bidding procedures.

“This is simply looking at the procurement process,” said Councilor Anthony Coghill Tuesday. “We’re not throwing out any allegations that the mayor’s office deceived us… We’re simply going to review the process because there are some questions around it.”

Days later, the DA’s office requested a broad range of records including “all letters, memorandum, emails, text messages, faxes, sound recordings,” and other materials.

“Our office intends to thoroughly look into this to the best of our abilities,” Zappala said in a press release announcing last week's records request.

The Gainey administration said Friday that its dealings with Matrix Consulting Group have been above board. Jake Pawlak, the city’s Deputy Mayor and director of the Office of Management and Budget, said questions around the procurement process were “frivolous and … misguided or politically motivated,” at a press conference Friday.

Still, Pawlak said the administration would comply with City Council’s inquiry and the DA’s records request “because we have nothing to hide.”

Pawlak explained that the Gainey administration sought an exemption from the city’s formal bidding procedure because it argued the consultant was the “only known company” to do this work.

The city commissioned a similar study from the International Association of Chiefs of Police previously. But Pawlak argued that many of the association’s board members lead police agencies and negotiate police contracts: The Gainey administration desired an “independent voice,” he said, so it sought out Matrix Consulting Group.

Furthermore, Pawlak said that the study could have informed pending negotiations between the city and the police union.

Pawlak said although “at the outset, we thought that might be necessary,” the city ultimately said, “did not need that report to inform the negotiation.”

In its records request, the District Attorney’s office also asked for all resumes and experience summaries for agents and representatives of Matrix, as well as all records reviewed by the city that determined that Matrix is “"comprised of highly experienced management consultants, specializing in law enforcement services."

The city could take up to a month to comply with the DA’s records request. The legal review requested by City Council is due by Sept. 6.

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.