'We can't just create officers': City council sounds alarm about Pittsburgh's shrinking police force
"I'm just going to assume we're going to lose the same number [of officers] next year, which will put us at 725," a councilmember said
By Megan Guza
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Some City Council members fear the falling number of police officers in Pittsburgh could continue to outpace the speed with which new officers are recruited, trained and put on the street, leaving the bureau in even worse straits in the years to come.
A collective six hours of budget hearings among City Council members and Public Safety department heads Thursday focused heavily on bolstering the police force and addressing the continued homelessness crisis throughout the city.
On Jan. 1, there were 912 sworn officers on the city's payroll. As of Thursday, that number was down to 836, said Acting Chief Thomas Stangrecki. The city budgets for 900 uniformed officers each year. COVID and other hiring freezes over two years kept new recruits from being added to the force.
"I'm just going to assume we're going to lose the same number next year, which will put us at 725," said Councilman Anthony Coghill.
He asked Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt what constitutes a dangerously low number of police officers.
"I think we're definitely getting into the low numbers," Mr. Schmidt said. "Unfortunately, we're in a situation where we can't just create officers.
"We're going to have to come up with some solutions, some stop gaps to make sure we're providing the services we usually provide," he said.
Two academy classes are in the works — one for recruits who have already received some type of law enforcement training and one for truly new recruits.
Mr. Schmidt said during the hearings that there have been fewer than anticipated applicants for the former but 200 have applied for the new recruit class. Academy classes, though, are generally held to around 30 to 35 recruits.
That class will not begin until August, Mr. Schmidt said, and it would be roughly a year before those officers are patrolling the streets.
Mr. Coghill posed the scenario where the city loses around 100 officers each year while only bringing on one new recruit class.
"I mean at that pace, we're just going to be in a lot of trouble," he said.
Chief Stangrecki noted that normal years generally see more than one recruit class and the ultimate goal is to have academy classes on a rolling basis to keep up with officers retiring or resigning.
The total payroll for the police bureau in 2023 is just under $71.9 million — about $600,000 more than 2022. The budget again allows for 900 officers, though there are some changes to the subsets of officers on the force. For example, the budget will decrease the number of detectives from 203 to 193.
There will be one fewer assistant chief and one additional commander. The numbers for sergeants and lieutenants remain the same — 102 and 30, respectively. The budget adds 10 additional police officers for a total of 556.
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