Zone 3 will lose 50 police officers to new Zone 6 in West End
When the new Zone 6 begins operating in the West End in January it will take not only a handful of the "slowest" sectors from Zone 3, it will also take more than 50 officers from the area.
"We'll have a bigger zone with fewer officers than before (the merger)," said one officer with more than 14 years of service who asked not to be identified.
As of last Friday, he said the "pick sheet," the method by which officers bid their shifts and assignments for the coming year, have the Zone 3 station being reduced down to 66 officers. The officer said that before the merger, Zone 3 was staffed at approximately 95 police officers and currently has almost 140 total on all shifts. He said it is the police chief's decision on how many police officers are assigned to each zone.
According to the officer, "morale is in the toilet" at the station with officers concerned about their safety and the safety of the residents after the first of the year. One of the problems he noted was that Zone 3 doesn't have overtime to replace officers who are on vacation or call off, sometimes leaving the station short handed.
He said that covering the expanded Zone 3 wasn't a problem with officers in the western sectors able to use the old West End station, which now houses several special
ports. Officers didn't have to leave their sectors for long periods of time to come back to South Side to fill out those reports. He added that now with the addition of computers in the cars the officers have that capacity wherever they are.
Commander Larry Ross confirmed that the station will loose about 50 officers, but with the loss of the western neighborhoods Zone 3 wouldn't be as "big or as busy."
There were approximately 20 officers who volunteered from Zone 3 to move to Zone 6. Commander Ross said that another 30 or so would be reassigned by "inverse seniority." Most of the officers being reassigned have only a few years of service with the "youngest up" receiving their reassignment orders.
"We're losing a lot of good young officers," Commander Ross said.
He explained that decision to open the West End station at the beginning of the new year was an initiative by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his staff. Originally, Police Chief Nate Harper had planned to reopen the station at the beginning of 2009.
"It's going to be done, regardless," the police commander said. "I don't think it will be too negative."
Unlike the fire department, the police department doesn't have a minimum manpower policy. While the fire department is permitted to call in ranking officers to act in other capacities, the police department can't.
Commander Ross also confirmed that the city doesn't have a policy of replacing officers on vacation or who have called off by using other officers on overtime. However, he said that because of the huge size of Zone 3, he has always authorized his supervisors to make overtime available if necessary.
He noted that because of the large zone and limited number of officers, many are tired and physically beat as it is and need their off time to rest.
Another factor that could affect policing in South Pittsburgh, and more specifically South Side, is that the "saturation patrols" that have operated on weekends since the beginning of summer are expected to come to an end soon. The patrols have focused mainly on the back streets of South Side concentrating on quality of life issues (public urination, excessive noise, etc) and responsible for hundreds of citations and arrests.
While Commander Ross welcomes the plan to get the police force up to 900 officers and hopes some of the graduating classes coming out of the Police Academy will be coming to Zone 3, "We need to get back up to 1,200 to 1,300 officers to get to do what we need to do."