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Pittsburgh Police Upset Over New Contract, Union Head Predicts Exodus

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- They're sworn to protect and serve the public, but Pittsburgh Police say in terms of pay, their getting the short end of the deal.

"The contract is completely abysmal and it erases any type of decent economic features for the police," says Bob Swartzwelder, the police union president.

The new contract calls for a one percent raise this year and two percent in the next two years. But police may actually be making less money because they'll pay 15 percent of their health insurance, up from the current nine percent.

Their salaries are substantially lower than those in most suburban Allegheny County departments, even though the union maintains that city officers are busier, encounter more danger and have less public support.

"I don't want to say a tougher job because police work is tough everywhere, but I think we are required to put up with a lot more things than our suburban counterparts," says Swartzwelder.

According to the union's figures, an experienced Pittsburgh Police officer makes $60,780 a year, substantially less than the median salary of $81,825 among departments in the county.

In Mount Lebanon, officers make $83,000; in Bethel Park, they make $89,000; and in Monroeville, an experienced police officer makes $101,000 a year.

But the city says because it's what's known as a distressed city, it cannot pay its police more.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "Are you saying your hands are tied? That even if you wanted to pay them more money or were able to, you can't?"

Mayor's Office Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin: "Correct."

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City's finances are still under state control under something called Act 47, which has mandated costs constraints to get the city on firm financial footing.

Acklin concedes that the police and other public servants are paying the price.

But as a result, Swartzwelder predicts that many of the 320 officers eligible for retirement will do so, and younger officers will try to find work elsewhere.

Though Acklin says the most city police are committed.

"It might safer to go to a suburban department and police a vacant parking lot or a mall. The officers I meet, they love their jobs, they love the city, they love being out there, they love interacting with the community; and while we're not able to pay them what they're worth - that's true of a lot of our bureau - it's just the financial reality of what it means to be in a modern American city."

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