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‘They Didn’t Feel They Were Appreciated’: Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert On The Challenges Of Retaining Officers

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh police watch from a sidewalk during a "Civil Saturday" demonstration organized by the Pittsburgh-based Black, Young, and Educated in September.

On today’s program: Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert talks about the challenges of retaining members of the force when many are retiring, and others are leaving for different or higher-paying positions; legal analyst David Harris discusses why Bill Cosby was released from prison after the state Supreme Court tossed out his conviction; and PublicSource reporter Charlie Wolfson breaks down his analysis of state and county spending on salaries.

More Pittsburgh police officers have left the force so far this year than in 2020
(0:00 - 9:54)

Police officers nationwide are leaving the force, either quitting or retiring, in higher numbers than the previous year. According to the Police Executive Research Forum, among all department survey respondents, there was a 45% increase in retirements.

But how is the Pittsburgh's Police Department doing?

“Last year in 2020, we had a total of 46 people that retired, resignations or terminations. And this year, so far, we’re at 47,” says Scott Schubert, chief of police for Pittsburgh. “We’ve had 31 retirements, 14 resignations, and it’s mainly taking other law enforcement jobs, and one termination.”

Schubert says one large concern is retaining officers of color. He says if everyone eligible to retire did so, only about 6% of the force would be Black. Currently, about 11% of the force identifies as officers of color.

Schubert says some have said they’ve felt disrespected in recent months after the widespread media coverage of police misconduct and violence.

“From talking to other chiefs across the country, what they’re going through, there are officers that simply left because they didn’t feel they were appreciated,” says Schubert. “In Pittsburgh, at least from my experience of walking all the communities, I think it kind of validated to me that we are needed, we are wanted.”

Schubert says officers should be held accountable when there’s wrongdoing, and those doing good work should be applauded.

Bill Cosby released after court rules he shouldn’t have been criminally charged
(9:56 - 15:58)

Bill Cosby is out of prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed out his sexual assault conviction. Cosby was released last Wednesday after serving nearly three years of a three-to-ten year sentence.

The high court ruled Cosby was unfairly prosecuted, since the prosecutor who brought the case was bound by his predecessor's agreement not to criminally charge Cosby.

“They’re not saying he’s innocent, they’re saying that the way he was charged — after a promise by a prosecutor not to do so, which resulted in an incriminating statement by Mr. Cosby — that was the problem,” explains David Harris, University of Pittsburgh law professor and WESA legal analyst.

“When you are a defendant in a civil case, you can be questioned in a deposition under oath. Once the promise is made not to criminally prosecute him, any Fifth Amendment right not to speak disappears, and so he has to admit the truth under oath, or he could be charged with perjury,” says Harris. “His attorney would stop him from talking on questions like that if criminal charges were still a possibility.”

The D.A. who didn’t charge Cosby is Bruce Castor, who earlier this year defended Donald Trump in his impeachment trial.

Harris says it’s rare that a conviction is tossed out. He adds that it is possible for Cosby to face charges from other women who testified against him, but it is also unlikely because those charges and accusations would fail the statute of limitations test.

State Corrections Department spends over $1 billion on employee salaries
(16:01 - 22:30)

The Department of Corrections spent more on employee salaries last year than any other department. It paid 16,283 employees a just over a $1 billion in total.

“It's pretty consistent that the Department of Corrections is the biggest spender in the state,” says PublicSource reporter Charlie Wolfson.

Wolfson published his findings after looking into all state department and Allegheny County department salaries for 2020.

He found the top-earning state staffers are making more than certain legislators.

“The chief counsel to House Speaker Brian Cutler made about $71,000 more than the speaker himself made,” Wolfson says. “Just to put this in perspective, Cutler, the speaker, was the highest paid lawmaker in 2020, but overall, 61 legislative staffers earned more than him during the year.”

In Allegheny County, the departments spending the most on salary were the departments of Human Services, Kane Regional Living Centers, and the county jail. Wolfson says that’s in part due to overtime pay, which was about $29 million in 2020.

Wolfson’s report also took notice of pay disparities in gender and race.

“Including all employees, male employees earned a median salary of just over $53,000, compared to female employees, who made a median salary of about $43,000.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
Eoin is a production assistant for The Confluence and a senior at NC State University studying political science. He got his start in broadcasting at WKNC, NC State's college radio station. When he's not working, he enjoys hiking, surfing, and listening to music.
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