'It's good to be home': Former assistant police chief named Pittsburgh's next top cop
Larry Scirotto said one of the first areas he'll focus on is restructuring and reorganizing the command staff and rank-and-file officers
By Megan Guza
PITTSBURGH — Moments after being named the new chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Larry Scirotto took questions head-on Wednesday about why he was fired from his last job and his side-gig as a college basketball referee.
Despite that baggage, Scirotto is the right person to lead Western Pennsylvania's largest police department, Mayor Ed Gainey said.
Scirotto, who will be acting chief pending approval by City Council, beamed as the mayor officially nominated Pittsburgh's former assistant police chief to lead the department. He would be the 55th chief to lead the 800-plus member department.
"It's good to be home," said Scirotto, who spent 23 years with the Pittsburgh police until 2018. His most recent law enforcement job was a short stint leading the police department in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for several months in 2021 and 2022.
Gainey made the announcement in the lobby of the City-County Building after weeks of rumors and speculation.
The process to get to that point wasn't a short one. The announcement came just shy of one year after former Chief Scott Schubert announced his intent to retire, effective July 1. Since then, the Gainey administration has missed several self-imposed deadlines for choosing a new chief.
"It took us some time," Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said. "We didn't want to move quickly. We wanted to be sure that we had the right chief for the future of the bureau."
City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said she has known Scirotto for years and that she's looking forward to continuing a "good working relationship."
"I'm anxious to get to know him again, to see where he is... what he's learned," she said.
Scirotto was one of three finalists for the job. The others were Jason Lando, a former Pittsburgh police leader currently serving a chief in Frederick, Md., and Ryan Lee, a former chief in Boise, Idaho.
"Larry rose to the top," Gainey said. "His deep ties in the city, inside knowledge of the bureau and his outside perspective makes him the right choice to be the chief of police and to continue on with our right policing strategy."
Scirotto would be Pittsburgh's first openly gay police chief.
He said one of the first areas he'll focus on is restructuring and reorganizing the command staff and rank-and-file officers. He said those decisions will be informed by a long-awaited $180,000 staffing study commissioned by the city almost a year ago.
The city hasn't released details about the report or indicated whether it will be made public.
Scirotto called the study a "blueprint for the direction of this organization."
"It's the responsibility of the police chief to evaluate the operation at every level to ensure that we're providing the highest level of services," he said, declining to elaborate on what the restructuring might look like. He said only that the review will happen "in short order."
Questions arose in both Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale about the amount of time Mr. Scirotto spent on his other job, as a well-known NCAA basketball referee. Gainey said Scirotto won't continue to referee while he is Pittsburgh's police chief.
Councilman Anthony Coghill said he's interested in asking Scirotto about his referee job and allegations of discriminatory hiring practices in Fort Lauderdale.
"But through this whole process, I was always comforted that Council will have the final say, regardless of the Mayor's pick," he said.
Coghill said there's no immediate timeline for when Council will consider Scirotto's appointment.
While some questioned his time spent refereeing, it was his hiring practices that led to his ouster from the job in Fort Lauderdale. He was hired as police chief of the South Florida city in June 2021 and took the reins in August 2021.
But by November 2021, Fort Lauderdale officials had hired a law firm to investigate claims that Scirotto favored non-white candidates for promotions. He was ultimately fired in March 2022.
He defended his hiring practices Wednesday, saying that of 15 promotions he offered in the first months of his tenure, six were minorities in terms of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. He said those promotions were based on merit.
"When I was hired in Fort Lauderdale, I was hired to build a diverse organization, and that started with the leadership team," Scirotto 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 no matter what your ethnicity was, no matter what your gender was or your orientation."
He said Gainey hasn't asked him to shape the Pittsburgh bureau in any way other than creating a fair environment.
"We will always prioritize diversity," he said. "That doesn't mean that we're sacrificing quality candidates to do so."
A report from the law firm hired to investigate Scirotto in Florida concluded that his approach to hiring and promotions unfairly focused on minority candidates. The report, included in a wrongful termination lawsuit Mr. Scirotto filed against Fort Lauderdale, alleged that he once pointed to a conference room wall bearing photos of the department's command staff, saying it was "too white" and that, "I'm gonna to change that."
Another time, he allegedly passed over a white officer with 20 years of experience for a promotion and instead narrowed the choice to two Black men. He allegedly pondered aloud "which one is [more Black]," the report said.
Scirotto's lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale, which is still active, seeks damages and his reinstatement. He said Wednesday that the latter is no longer an option and "it's not on the table."
He called it a dream to be offered the top police job in Pittsburgh.
"I immediately reflected back to 1995 on Washington Boulevard at the Training Academy," he said. "I remember standing in the hallway with [a commander] and I said, 'One day — one day I'm going to be chief.' And here we are — a dream come true."
Hallie Lauer contributed to this report.
(c)2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.