Police and politics

Published by James O'Toole on .

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's campaign rivals called on him to oust Police Chief Nate Harper Thursday and criticized him for failing to do so sooner.

Councilman Bill Peduto urged the mayor to place Mr. Harper on a leave of absence while city Controller Michael Lamb, citing the serial controversies surrounding the police department, said the chief should be forced to step down. Mr. Ravenstahl has said that he still has confidence in the chief.

"The people of Pittsburgh need a chief of police that is focused on the safety of the public 24/7, not a chief that is distracted by a federal grand jury, FBI agents raiding police headquarters, and daily allegations of misconduct,'' said Mr. Peduto. "Mayor Ravenstahl must immediately place Chief on Harper on a leave of absence, so that the chief can focus on those issues. That way, the people of Pittsburgh can be guaranteed that they have a chief that is focused 24/7 on public safety. The leave of absence should continue until the federal investigation is completed."

Joanna Doven, the mayor's press secretary, blasted Mr. Peduto, who, along with Mr. Lamb, is challenging her boss for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

"This is Bill Peduto being classic Bill Peduto. He'll say and do anything popular at the moment to benefit himself,'' she said in a statement. "Keep in mind that this is the same Bill Peduto who just a few years ago signed his name on a letter asking a judge for leniency toward his convicted friend and City Councilwoman. This request after she was found guilty of stealing tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. This latest stunt just once again shines light on the hypocrisy of Bill Peduto.''

The spokeswoman referred to former city Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle, who resigned from council in 2008 while pleading guilty to 17 counts of ethics and corruption charges.

Mr. Lamb also decried the mayor's response to the police controversy.

"The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has been engulfed in controversy the past few months, distracting from their core duty of protecting the people of Pittsburgh. The Bureau needs leadership from the Mayor,'' the controller said.

"We ask our police officers to put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis to protect Pittsburgh and the least we can do is give them a semblance of stability so they can focus on the task at hand. We don't need a consultant to tell the city how to manage its affairs; we need leadership from the Mayor. If Chief Harper is not prepared to step down, the Mayor needs to make that decision for him. It's time for the mayor and the chief to do the right thing so that our police officers can focus on protecting the city – not controversies."

The mayor's office had no immediate rebuttal to the Lamb statement.

Mr. Peduto's statement on Mr. Harper followed another effort to attempt to put the administration on the defensive on public safety issues. Earlier in the day, he appeared at a Homewood press conference with state Rep. Ed Gainey. D-East Liberty, and other community leaders, to call on the mayor to enforce city legislation requiring the reporting of lost and stolen guns. Mr. Ravenstahl, while a member of the national group, Mayors Against Gun Violence, has refused to enforce that law arguing that to do so would fly in the face of a state law preempting municipal action against guns.

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