Pittsburgh Police continue to face staff shortage entering 2024
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is still about 100 officers short of a fully staffed police force in the final month of 2023. Pittsburgh’s police chief Larry Scirotto reports the bureau currently has 772 officers and 45 recruits in the police academy. The recruits in training are expected to be operational sometime between June and July in 2024.
“We'll be working over the next month and into January into 2024 to have a clear recruiting strategy,” Scirotto said.
Pittsburgh Police lost 69 officers in 2023 due to 43 resignations, 25 retirements and one death. Another 26 officers are eligible for retirement by the end of the year.
Robert Swartzwelder is the president of Pittsburgh’s Fraternal Order of Police and has been an officer in the city for 31 years. He says 2023 has the highest number of police resignations in the 11 years it’s been tracked by his union.
He blames pay, benefits and working conditions, saying the Pittsburgh police bureau can’t compete with nearby departments.
“These young officers today are going to say, well, wait a minute. I can make more money, I have less strain on my personal life, so I'm going to go there,” Swartzwelder said.
He says an understaffed police force can lead to slower response times. Lewis Irwin, a political science professor at Duquesne University, says it can also result in patrol shortages and overworked officers.
“We need our law enforcement to be on the beat. We need our law enforcement to have opportunities to de-stress and to decompress,” Irwin explained. “Any time you have fewer people, even as work requirements increase, it's a pretty toxic mix and it can often express itself in the form of incidents between the police force and the public that they serve.”
Some solutions to staffing issues suggested by the union include cutting back on which calls police respond to, reducing large city events like marathons and light up nights that expend police resources, and increasing police pay.
Over the past year, there have been efforts by the city and police bureau to recruit more officers.
College credit requirements for recruits were removed last fall. Since the late 1990s, police recruits were required to complete 60 college credits prior to entering the police academy. Now they only need a high school diploma or GED certificate. Officials in Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration have said the previous requirement created a barrier of entry for candidates who are unable to pay for college.
Irwin, however, worries lowering education requirements for police will make staffing issues worse by creating a need for more on-the-job training. This further expends police resources.
“You want your police officers to be well-educated. You want them to understand aspects of sociology and criminology, criminal justice,” Irwin said. “We want our police officers to be the best among us, not to be folks that are just meeting a minimum standard.”
Just after stepping into the role of police chief in May this year, Scirotto also announced plans to launch a new unit within the police department dedicated to recruiting and mentoring new officers. He estimated this unit would be staffed by six police employees. To date, he says one officer is assigned for whom recruiting is a secondary responsibility. Scirotto hopes to assign more.
“Especially facing the number of officers that are retiring at this point going into 2024, with a lot less personnel than we thought we would have,” Scirotto added.
Scirotto is also looking for ways to ease the load for officers by hiring what are called community service aids. These are people who can respond to incidents that don’t require an armed police officer. For example, they can go to the aftermath of a robbery to note what’s been stolen and write a report.
“They also then provide relief to our sworn officers in those tasks that wouldn't require somebody to carry a firearm,” Scirotto said.
Scirotto explained this role could also be an important recruiting tool, as community aids are mentored by police for one to two years. He says the bureau is currently looking to hire 12 people for this position.
Scirotto says he’s confident about recruitment efforts going into 2024.
“I am not overly concerned with our departures. I believe we will meet and exceed that in 2024,” he said. “We have not recruited in five years, maybe with any real intention, for the last decade. We allowed that to be the responsibility of human resources. And while they do a great job in the processing, their skill set isn't recruiting police officers. That’s our responsibility.”
Mayor Ed Gainey’s 2024 budget reduced Pittsburgh’s number of budgeted police salaries from 900 to 850 to allow the city to fund other initiatives. The goal is to increase to 875 in 2026 and back to 900 in 2027.