Pittsburgh paid more money for fewer police in 2023

Two years into his first term as Pittsburgh mayor, Ed Gainey’s mark on city government is beginning to take shape.

A PublicSource review of city payroll data shows that employees hired by the city since Gainey took office in 2022 are more diverse than the city’s workforce overall. 

And while the police force has gone down in numbers since Gainey took over, the city is spending more than ever before on policing, both in base pay and overtime.

View the full dataset here.

The city’s 3,400-strong workforce — the people who respond to emergencies, pave streets, pick up trash and process permits and taxes, among other things — was about 73% white at the end of 2023. But of the 620 people hired to full-time roles since Jan. 3, 2022, when Gainey was sworn in, just 56% are white. Most of the difference appears in an uptick in Black representation; 31% of the new hires, or 191 of them, were Black.

“The mayor upon taking office understood that if he was going to ask companies to have a diverse staff, the city would have to lead the way in making the case of having a diverse workforce,” Gainey’s press secretary, Olga George, wrote in an emailed response to PublicSource questions. 

She wrote that the city is paring down job requirements that might “have an adverse impact on different populations,” citing as an example removing a driver’s license requirement for jobs that don’t require driving.

City government is still whiter than the city at large, despite the mayor’s focus, in part because of an entrenched lack of diversity in the public safety bureaus. The bureaus of police, fire and emergency medical services together employ more than half of city workers and offer some of the best paying jobs in local government. The three bureaus were 86% white in 2023.

The Bureau of Police has become slightly more white than it was in 2021, though a pandemic era hiring freeze meant no recruits were brought on until last year. All but seven of 49 recruits on the 2023 payroll were white.

Asked what the administration is doing to diversify its public safety bureaus, George pointed to a new city-run EMT academy, updated job requirements aimed at attracting women to the fire bureau and mentorship programs in the Bureau of Police. “We’re excited to see if these efforts will bear fruit,” she wrote.

Robert Swartzwelder, the president of the police officers’ union, said negative public sentiment about police officers, heightened since 2020, could be a deterrent to Black Pittsburghers applying to join the force.

“If you look at an African American officer today, they have it pretty tough,” Swartzwelder said. “They get it tough in the community if people think the police department is racist. If they go to a function and there’s a lot of other African Americans around, they might give them a hard time. Officers I’ve known for a long time have told me this.”

Of the city’s 620 hires under Gainey, about one in three went to the Department of Public Works [DPW], reflecting the mayor’s stated focus on improving snow removal and other basic services. Sixty-two hires were in the police bureau, though the vast majority of those have yet to complete training. Fifty-eight were hired to the Bureau of Fire, about half of whom were still in training at the end of 2023.

Most of the increase in diversity over the last two years took place within public works. Of 191 Black employees hired since 2022, 110 were in DPW. Last year, 59% of all public works hires were Black. By contrast, 93% of the fire bureau hires were white.

A byproduct of this trend: Non-white individuals were disproportionately hired to the city’s lower-paying jobs (DPW median salary: $47,072), while high-paying public safety roles went overwhelmingly to white individuals (public safety median salary: $80,000).

George wrote that the city is trying to remove implicit bias from the promotion process to ensure “advancement is about skill and leadership, not who knows who,” which she said has led to more diversity in higher-paying foreperson jobs.

More money to fewer cops

Activists who helped Gainey to election on the hopes he would shrink the police force and divert funds elsewhere have gotten half of their wish. The force has shrunk since 2021, though Gainey says he wants it to return to its previous size. But the city is paying more for policing than ever. 

A wave of 78 departures left the bureau with 812 uniformed personnel on the books at the end of 2023, far beneath the city’s long-held target of 900.

In part to restore those thinning ranks, Gainey touted a new contract with the police union last year, which included a new disciplinary matrix that he said will allow the city to better hold cops accountable. The contract also gave significant pay bumps to officers in an effort to stop them from heading to suburban departments.

The median base pay in the bureau last year was $85,750, a 20% increase from 2021. Overtime pay has also ballooned as the officer count has fallen; officers racked up $11.6 million in overtime in 2023, up from $7.9 million two years ago. Even as 230 fewer people appear on the police payroll, gross pay for the department increased 4%.

Even while the city upped pay in a bid to keep officers from leaving, more than 50 did just that after the contract was ratified in March 2023 — 70% of the total who left last year.

Swartzwelder said even with the new contract, the city is “still extremely noncompetitive” on pay with suburban and county law enforcement agencies, which he said can pay around 15% to 20% more.

“You have to offer somebody a sustainable career,” Swartzwelder said. “Pittsburgh doesn’t offer that because they’re so low paying. Once they get in, a lot of these other agencies pay better, they take them away.”

George said the city is focusing on recruiting and training young officers rather than asking officers who have “loyally served the city and wished to retire” to stay on longer.

But that strategy has its limits: Training takes months, and the first recruitment class of Gainey’s tenure has yet to graduate. The administration is pivoting in some places, George said, by identifying police jobs that “can and should be handled by civilians” rather than sworn officers. 

Highest-earning, longest serving 

The city’s median base pay increased about 8.8%  during Gainey’s first two years, but overtime spiked 33% to $21.8 million.

As in recent years, the top overtime earners were EMS responders. Paramedic Anthony DeSantis was the only city employee to gross more than $300,000 last year, a figure that included $182,000 in overtime pay.

The top-grossing police employee was Jeffrey Dean, a senior patrolling officer, at $291,000. Larry Scirotto, the chief of police since May 2023, had the highest base salary of $180,000.

Twenty-nine city employees earned higher base salaries than Gainey, who took home $127,000 last year. Seventy-six earned gross pay of $200,000 or more, pushing the mayor down to 610th in rank in total earnings.

The city lost five employees last year who started as early as the 1970s, including a clerk, a refuse truck driver, and former EMS Chief Ronald Romano.

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at charlie@publicsource.org.

This story was fact-checked by Delaney Rauscher Adams.

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