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Pittsburgh's police force shrinking, may get smaller before it can grow back

WTAE Pittsburgh 12/1/2022 Bob Mayo
pittsburgh police force shrinking. © WTAE pittsburgh police force shrinking.

Pittsburgh's police force may be budgeted for 900 officers, but the headcount is down to around 830, and the bureau may get even smaller before it can get bigger.

Concerns about the size of Pittsburgh's police staffing surfaced Thursday during Public Safety budget hearings before City Council.

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District 4 City Council member Anthony Coghill said Pittsburgh is losing police to retirement and other departures faster than they can be replaced.

"Say we continue to put a new recruitment class on every year, which I'm sure we're going to have to, so we gain 30 per year. But we're losing roughly 100 per year, and that number's going to go up, I think. So, in 10 years, we will have zero police officers at this rate. It's simple math, right?" Coghill said with a chuckle, extrapolating the numbers to make a point.

Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt acknowledges that, due to a hiring freeze the past two years during the pandemic, the city police force has been shrinking.

"All of us, the mayor's office, the mayor, everyone's concerned about the fact that we are kind of behind the eight-ball on this. Due to the no hiring for two years, we're playing catch-up at this point," Schmidt told Pittsburgh's Action News 4.

While the city has 200 applicants to become officers, currently, one class of about 35 new recruits is scheduled during the new year. There are also about eight police applicants with experience elsewhere who would be in a smaller class of already certified officers.

There are 240 Pittsburgh police officers eligible to retire now, if they chose to. That number will grow in the new year.

Coghill said adding a few dozen more police recruits in classes during the coming year will fall short of replacing an expected 100 retirements.

"At that pace, we're just going to be in a lot of trouble, I believe. I don't know how we're going to do it, to be honest with you. We have to do an aggressive recruiting campaign, I believe," Coghill told Schmidt during the budget hearing.

Schmidt tells Pittsburgh's Action News 4 that background checks, physicals and other screenings take about six months for new recruits before training can begin.

"And then, from the time they start at the academy to exit as full-fledged officers, on their own, out of field, training is about 11 months. So, even though we are having officers next year start as new recruits, they won't be out of the academy until 2024," Schmidt said.

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