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August 28, 2014

Police chief brings changes to force

Pitt Police Chief James K. Loftus is about to experience his first fall as head of the force, and says his top moves so far have been reorganizing the department, including the promotion of Holly A. Lamb to deputy chief, and imparting his policing philosophy to his 100 officers.

“The big thing is morale,” says Lamb, who joined the Pitt Police in 1996 and who was most recently administrative lieutenant. “People get into a routine … with the same leaders,” she says. “I think we were stagnant for a while,” prior to the 2013 retirement of Chief Tim Delaney, who led the force for a dozen years.

With the promotion of Loftus, “it’s fantastic compared to what it was. People fear change but I think this change is really good for the department.”

Explains Loftus about Lamb’s appointment: “I could tell she had the trust of the rank and file. People go to her to have their questions answered.”

Loftus was hired as deputy chief in July 2013 after 20 years as a director in the Miami-Dade Police Department. “I’ve always wanted to come back,” says the Pittsburgh native.

Going from the eighth-largest police force in the country to Pitt’s campus unit is “dramatically different,” he says. “The criminality is different,” he adds, but says the police personnel are the same everywhere, with the same background and level of professionalism required for officers on any force.

Pitt had to hire 30 new officers last year, when the force was expanded to five UPMC hospitals in the wake of the March 2012 shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC): UPMC Shadyside, UPMC Presbyterian, Magee-Womens, UPMC Mercy and WPIC. Pitt’s armed officers now supplement UPMC’s unarmed security personnel, at UPMC’s request. Lamb has some oversight duties for this part of the force.

She expected the side-by-side hospital security work by UPMC’s own personnel and Pitt Police to be tough, but “we are all working together great,” she says. “The big thing is the relationship … all the hospital administrators have welcomed us.”

To handle the influx of new personnel, Pitt promoted several officers to create new supervisors and acquired some additional patrol cars. But even though the Pitt Police increased by nearly a third last year, Lamb insists that it was “not a big adjustment.”

“After Western Psych, the idea is to have a more uniform uniformed presence,” explains Loftus — that is, a consistent application of force policy in all five facilities.

Each hospital now has a set of officers assigned to it, says Lamb. “You need to make sure that everybody is on the same page when responding to the calls, that everybody knows what everybody else is doing.”

While Loftus says the department won’t be seeking any major equipment upgrades soon, it may be writing a grant proposal to acquire a third bomb-sniffing dog to add to Filo, the black lab that has worked the second shift since early 2013, and Riggs, Pitt’s first bomb-sniffing dog. The new dog would cover the night shift, but such a move is not yet imminent, Loftus says. He notes that Pitt’s two dogs pitch in locally, such as at Children’s Hospital, and for any need in the local Homeland Security district, Region 13.

In perhaps his most important move, Loftus says, he is looking to institute “subtle, systematic changes” — and to communicate to the Pitt community that his officers understand them.

“We have an officer here who is retired from the state police,” he notes. “He’s going to put his kids through school here.” Loftus may do the same. “We’re going to be the parents in a few years. We want those parents to have their kids know there is a police department that understands them.”

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 1