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By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Mt. Oliver 'fortunate' to have their police officers according to evaluation

 


The findings of a review and evaluation of the Mount Oliver Police Department are a mixed bag of compliments and criticism for the department and borough officials.

The report, prepared by Chief Michael E. Mastroianni (Ret.) of L&M Accreditation consultants, LLC, evaluated police functions in the areas of written directives, chain of command, selection and hiring, equipment training and more.

“My overall impression with the police department was that it is staffed with dedicated officers who want to serve the citizens to the best of their ability. I would be proud to serve with Sgt. (Matthew) Juzwich, Cpl. (Laura) Murray and Officer (Jake) Alex,” Mr. Mastroianni writes in the evaluation.

“There is always room for improvement in any organization and the Mt. Oliver Police Department is no different. However it does appear that they are doing more with less. With low pay, and having to buy most of their own equipment, Mt. Oliver is fortunate to have these officers on board.”

In doing his evaluation, Mr. Mastroianni noted Council President Billie Michener provided a Standard Operating Procedures document, which he deemed “outdated.” However, after discussions with the officers, he learned they were using the Mount Oliver Police Department Standard Operating Guidelines which they provided to him in a binder.

Saying the guidelines provided by the police were overall relevant to the operation of the department, Mr. Mastroianni made several recommendations:

• To remove any items from the directives which don’t relate to the current operation of the department. He noted the existing guidelines mention asst. chiefs, lieutenants and detectives, which the Mount Oliver Police Department doesn’t have.

• Add directives for accounting, citizen complaints, chain of command, hiring and selection criteria, written directives, and a directive for how officers handle conflicting and/or unlawful orders.

• Add a “Use of Force” report to track and evaluate all instances of use of force.

• Include a specific list of the department’s approved weapons and ammunition in the Use of Force directive.

• Place an effective date and the chief’s signature on each directive.

• Be consistent in the use of terms throughout the directives.

Some of Mr. Mastroianni’s harshest criticism came in evaluating the chain of command for the department. He observed conflicting reports of who was in charge of the department while Chief Frank Mossesso is out recuperating from injuries sustained while training with the State Police.

“During my discussions with Council President Michener, I was advised that no one was in charge during the chief’s absence,” he wrote. “While inside the department I observed an order from Mayor James Cassidy that Sgt. (Keith) Williams was in charge during the chief’s absence. When I questioned this, I was advised that council did not recognize Sgt. William’s authority as officer in charge.”

Mr. Mastroianni noted a police department is a paramilitary organization and should have a clear chain of command for officers to follow. He added the unity of command is as important as the chain of command: there must be only one superior to a subordinate, an employee or a worker must not have many bosses or superiors.

“Officers should only report to and receive orders from one supervisor. From my observation of the current environment in Mt. Oliver, it seems like officers are receiving orders from any number of persons,” he wrote. “Borough Council should not be issuing orders to the officers.

“The chain of command should be Borough Council discusses the issues with the mayor. They come to an agreement on what task needs to be accomplished. The mayor relays this information to the chief of police and the chief of police directs the officers as they engage in the activity.”

“The unity of command is the chief reports to the mayor and the officers report to the chief,” he recommended.

Mr. Mastroianni also took issue with how officers were hired and promoted in the borough.

In interviews with three of the department’s officers, he learned hiring was done through an application process where prospective officers were interview by the chief and other borough officials. Promotions were granted on the recommendation of the chief. A civil service process wasn’t used for hiring or promotions.

He noted the Pennsylvania Borough Code requires use of civil service for hiring and promotions if a borough has three or more officers and there could be ramifications for the borough not using the process.

“There are some people who want to blame Chief Mosesso for hiring and promoting without utilizing civil service, but borough council ratified his recommendations and cannot shed its culpability,” he wrote.

The retired chief recommended the borough move to a plan where they replace one or two of their police vehicles each year with new vehicles. Currently, Mount Oliver’s fleet includes a total of seven marked and unmarked vehicles with miles ranging from nearly 9,000 to over 134,000.

According to the report, Mr. Mastroianni was impressed with the department’s armorer, Officer John Brown.

“It is essential that weapons are in good working order and the benefit of having an armorer on staff is evident in reviewing his work,” he commented.

He explained that normally he would be concerned about a borough not issuing firearms to officers. After reviewing Officer Brown’s inspection report, he is confident the officers’ weapons are in good working order and safe.

Mount Oliver police are required to purchase their own body armor and firearms and to wear the body armor while on duty. He recommended the borough begin purchasing the body armor, which has a life expectancy of five years.

Mr. Mastroianni was also impressed with changes the department made in securing evidence when the evidence custodian, Cpl. Murray, is not working. He was “extremely impressed” with her evidence/property procedures.

He recommended a written directive be formulated for handling citizen complaints. Currently, a form is given to a complainant, which is then forwarded to the chief for resolution.

“In is not necessary for the chief of police to handle every complaint. Supervisors should be empowered to handle inquires and complaints that are minor in nature. The chief of police should handle investigations that involve serious misconduct or the possible violation of the law,” he recommended.

One of the things he was surprised by was that the police department’s training budget was only $150. He was advised that the officers regularly check for free training courses at the Allegheny County Police Academy and the Pennsylvania State Police Southwest Training Center. Officers also attend mandatory annual update training and qualify with their firearms twice a year.

He recommended creating another written directive detailing what training is mandatory, the process for documenting the training and for establishing a field training program for new officers. He also noted the written directive should specify that no officer is permitted to participate in any activity that they are not trained to perform.

 

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