Pittsburgh City Council Members called in a long list of police and union officials Thursday to talk about staffing levels. The 2010 budget calls for a staff of 917 officers, but right now there are only 886 officers on the force. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss says the department is never allowed to have a single officer over the 917 mark. That includes recruit classes. “The chief and I always try to get to that number,” says Huss, “We were there for one day [this year] and the person backed out before they even came into the academy so we were at 916 for a while.” Huss says he is hesitant to add another class of 31 cadets today because of the uncertainty of next year’s budget. Fraternal order of police president Daniel O’Hara says it will be nearly impossible to recruit in the future if the city kills a class half way through. It takes about 10 months to move a cadet through the program.
O’Hara suggests that the council should approve a staffing number of 950. He arrived at that number partially based on real staffing needs and partially due to the constant staff turnover. O’Hara says it is a constant battle to keep offices in the city. He says they often spend a few years on the force and then head to the suburbs for higher pay, better benefits and the belief that the schools are better in the suburbs. The FOP also believes there will be a spike in retirements in the coming years. In the early 1990’s the city offered a retirement incentive package to officers and that lead to a large number of officers leaving the force. In turn, the city made a large number of hires in the following years and that bubble of officers is now hitting the 20-year mark when they can leave the force fully vested in the pension program. O’Hara says that is when there is an even bigger incentive to leave for other jobs.