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January 4, 2014

Consultant: Pittsburgh police work policies ‘lax’

PITTSBURGH — Policies regulating city police officers’ off-duty work activities are lax and need reform, a former prosecutor said in a report publicized Friday.

Steven Toprani, a former district attorney in neighboring Washington County who was hired to study the issue, said in the 25-page report that the lack of clear policies led to the “largely unregulated” environment that enabled former Chief Nate Harper to form a private security firm with four subordinates.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., whose office prosecutes criminal cases brought by Pittsburgh police, ordered Harper’s firm dissolved, and outgoing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl ordered Harper to resign in February.

Friday was Ravenstahl’s last day in office. He didn’t run for re-election, in part because of scandals stemming from questions raised about officers’ off-duty jobs.

Harper denied wrongdoing in connection with the consulting business which, he said, never got off the ground before it was quashed by Zappala.

Toprani’s analysis also touched on the fact that Cmdr. Eric Holmes, one of Harper’s associates in his defunct Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC, worked full time as interim police chief at Slippery Rock University – about 40 miles north of the city – while he was also a city police sergeant during parts of 2007 and 2008.

“Often these outside positions at a minimum blur the lines of demarcation between public duty and private pecuniary interest and may ultimately directly conflict with the city’s legitimate business,” Toprani found.

The consultant also determined such activity “operated in a vacuum” with only marginal oversight and no clear regulations.

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