Negotiations hit hurdle over costs of Allegheny County policing East Pittsburgh, North Braddock
Allegheny County Police officials estimate that taking over local police operations in East Pittsburgh and North Braddock would cost a combined $2 million — more than either municipality says it can afford, officials said Thursday.
The cash-strapped boroughs have been negotiating with county officials for months about disbanding their police departments , with talks intensifying following the June 19 fatal police shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose by East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld.
“While we are not going to get into details of private conversations, our discussions with North Braddock and East Pittsburgh were good, positive ones,” Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said in a statement. “That being said, at this time, we have been unable to arrive at a number that made sense for both county and the municipal taxpayers.”
East Pittsburgh Mayor Louis Payne and North Braddock Council President John Vahosky both said they still are hopeful the county will reconsider their proposals — including a potential “regionalized” police force that could provide protection to both boroughs, and perhaps extend to more neighboring communities.
“We need help. Our little municipalities, we’re all basically in the same situation. Our resources are down, we’ve got a limited tax base, poor community, and there’s not that much that we could do,” Vahosky said. “We thought this would be a no-brainer for the county, to be the local police of both boroughs being so close to one another.”
But Payne and Vahosky also balked at the cost estimates the county put on the table.
The county estimated it would cost $800,000 annuallly to take over policing for East Pittsburgh, and $1.2 million for North Braddock.
“We offered $300,000, and they said it would take almost $800,000,” Payne said. “It’s too much. It’s 75 percent of our (annual municipal) budget.”
Vahosky said the county rejected the idea of a single contract for both municipalities, citing a shortage of personnel. The $1.2 million amount is more than double North Braddock’s $550,000 budget for its current police department, which includes 10 part-time officers and a full-time chief.
“If we had $1.2 million, we sure as heck wouldn’t be talking to the county. We wouldn’t even need the county. We would be able to do this ourselves,” Vahosky said. “We figured, hey, two municipalities that are side by side, joined at the hip, we could have scraped up between both of us the $1 million figure for the county, but they didn’t think, I guess, that was feasible and they turned both of us down.
“I’m hoping the county would at some point reconsider and make things work.”
The county’s policing estimates are higher in part because they pay their officers significantly more — on average, about $90,000 a year.
East Pittsburgh and North Braddock each pay their part-time officers $15 an hour.
“(The county) said it was more an issue with staffing than it was costs; they just don’t have the people. The county does not have the officers to take us right now,” Payne said. “If the county can’t even get enough police officers and they’re paying them 50 percent more than us, how are we supposed to get them interested?”
Payne said East Pittsburgh, which is down to five part-time police officers, next will try to get one or more nearby municipalities to “band together and put our resources together” to come up a higher amount to offer the county.
Separately, county police have provided police services for the nearby borough of Wilmerding under a contract signed in 2016. That small municipality at the time agreed to pay the county $250,000 the first year and increases of 3 percent the following years plus a portion of fines and fees.
The talks with county officials are far from over, according to Payne, who hopes to secure support from at least one more municipality by the end of the year.
“We’re still negotiating,” Payne said.
The latest hurdle became apparent last week, when borough managers for East Pittsburgh and North Braddock each received phone calls from the county informing them that officials had been unable to agree on a cost.
Payne assured residents that East Pittsburgh will not dissolve its police force without new police protection in place. Turning to state police would be a “last resort,” Payne said.
“They’re understaffed, too, and their response time would be too long,” Payne said.
Vahosky recalled one of the first meetings during which he met with county officials about the policing issue in June.
When asked when he’d want the transition to happen, Vahosky recalled replying, “How about tomorrow?”
“And everybody kind of chuckled, but we were serious, because we figure the sooner, the better,” Vahosky said. “We want to get it rolling, and I was disappointed … we’re not putting all of our eggs in one basket, but we were sincerely hoping that something with the county would have been able to materialize.
“Twenty years ago, they talked about regionalizing police forces, and we thought this would be a great start.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.