Facing low staffing numbers, Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto says public is not at risk

Facing low staffing numbers, Pittsburgh's police chief says public is not at risk

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With a wave of resignations and retirements, police staffing numbers have fallen to levels lower than anyone can remember in Pittsburgh, and the union says the public is at risk. 

Some call the police the thin blue line, standing between order and disorder. In Pittsburgh, that line just got a lot thinner. 

In 2023, 102 officers left the bureau: 46 resigned, 55 retired and one died of natural causes. That leaves the bureau with 735 sworn officers and 12 command staff, which the union calls the lowest staffing levels anyone can remember.  

In a statement, Robert Swartzwelder, president of the Fraternal Order of Policesaid the public is at risk. 

"Citizens of the City of Pittsburgh and its visitors should be alarmed at these numbers. Citizens should be concerned for being overcharged on their taxes regarding police services they are not receiving and general public safety reasons. Visitors should be concerned about slower or absent police response as well as personal safety when they visit the City. The FOP has sounded the alarm for many years regarding this issue while the Mayor's administration and police administration mislead the public into believing all is well in the City."

KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan: "Does this put Public Safety in jeopardy?"

Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto: "It makes me re-evaluate where our resources are directed."

Since becoming chief in May, Scirotto says he has re-directed and redeployed officers to better protect and serve, eliminating responses to non-essential police calls and taking officers out of administration positions and returning them to patrol, saying while the overall numbers have fallen there are now more police on the street. 

"I don't believe the public's safety is in jeopardy," Scirotto said. "I don't believe our officers' safety is in jeopardy. If I did believe that, I wouldn't stand in front of you and tell you otherwise."

Out of the Black Lives Matter protests, former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto froze police hiring, and it took the Gainey administration a year and a half to put on a new recruit class. In the meantime, the numbers have steadily dropped. 

The city has also now empaneled two new police recruit classes, the first of which will be hitting the streets this spring. Scirotto says the city is now planning to put on three more classes to keep the bureau healthy.

"There's no reason we can't outpace departures in 2024," Scirotto said. 

Scirotto said with these redeployments and recruit classes, the public's safety can be assured. The police union has its doubts.  

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