PITTSBURGH, PA – After years of patrolling the rough and tumble streets of the City of Pittsburgh, serving an often-times unsupportive public, Matt Reid left for the quieter and more welcoming Borough of Whitehall.
“In suburban life, it’s completely the opposite,” said Reid. “People wave at you, they extend they’re hand first. They’re happy to see you.”
He’s part of an exodus of Pittsburgh Police who have found happier employment in law enforcement outside the city.
In the past five years, 110 city police officers have resigned or retired to take on other police work.
Twenty-two former city police officers now work for Allegheny County Police, and 12 are with the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office. But the majority is filling the rosters of suburban departments.
In Ross Township, there are nine former city police officers and there seven in McCandless. Six have gone to Monroeville and the lists go on.
There are four ex-city cops now working in Whitehall where Chief Don Dolphi has been all too happy to hire them.
“They’re very well-trained,” he says. “They understand the rules of the vehicle code, the crimes code, the rules of criminal procedure.”
But the suburban gain is the city’s drain. The city is losing experienced officers and the investment it’s made in their training.
Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is frustrated, but says he understands why.
“When you don’t have a contract, your pay isn’t what you’d like it to be, and you look at what’s happening nationally to police, of course officers are going to feel beleaguered,” Chief McLay says.
While city police officers complain of bad morale, understaffing and a restrictive residency requirement, the primary beef is money and how suburban officers make more.
“While they’re currently working they’re better paid, and when they retire they’re pension are much better,” said Bob Swartzwelder, the president of the Pittsburgh Police Union.
Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter
The base salary for city police is about 25 percent below those of their suburban counter parts, and their pension program falls far short. Swartzwelder says the flight to the suburbs is basic supply and demand economics.
“You have a very, very small supply of qualified candidates with a very high demand from around the city and other locations,” says Swartzwelder. “And the police officers are exercising their right to use their skill level to go to a higher paying location to work.”
He gets no argument from Chief McLay who wants the city cops to reach pay and pension parity with the suburbs.
“My members deserve to be paid competitively with the region. We’re not. That’s making my job extremely difficult,” he says.