The Overlapping Police Departments of Allegheny County

By Lauren Renaud and Lizzie Silver

The Overlapping Police Jurisdictions of Allegheny County

“Did you know that there are over one hundred police departments in Allegheny County alone?” Prof David Harris asked at a panel discussion following a screening of the documentary ‘Peace Officer’.

There are actually nearly 150.

This number stems in part from the fact that Allegheny County is made up of a large number of small municipalities, most of which have their own police departments. This includes towns like Aspinwall at 0.38 square miles, Blawnow, at 0.43 square miles and Rosslyn Farms at 0.55 square miles, all of which have their own departments. Small jurisdictions typically mean fewer resources, less training, and lower pay for officers.

Carnegie Mellon University Professor Daniel Nagin explained that, “when you have these little police departments, the capacity to properly train the police officers and establish a culture of accountability is really limited.” Professor Paul Hirschfield from Rutgers University also stated that, “cash-strapped local governments like Ferguson, Missouri’s may see tickets, fines, impounding fees and asset forfeitures as revenue sources and push for more involuntary police encounters.”

Earlier this year, Port Authority Police Officer Brian O’Malley shot and killed Bruce Kelly Jr. but there were also officers on the scene from the Wilkinsburg and Swissvale Police Departments. These officers had to interact with each other in a high-pressure situation, despite separate training and potentially varying expectations.

Accountability

Individual police departments are also held accountable by different bodies. For example, the Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB) can investigate complaints against the City of Pittsburgh police department, while other agencies answer only to the District Attorney, and follow a different process.

In fact the Port Authority cites their small size as justification for why they lack an internal affairs department or a review board. Spokesman Adam Brandolph said that the vast majority of police departments in the country have fewer than 50 officers and subsequently don’t have the resources or need for such procedures.

Other Agencies

In addition to the municipalities, other organizations like universities and hospitals have their own forces as well. Pennsylvania’s Act 501 allows nonprofits “maintaining a cemetery or any buildings or grounds open to the public, or organized for the prevention of cruelty to children or aged persons” to hire and pay their own police officers, complete with arrest powers. The same privilege is extended to corporations owning railways, and to the Humane Society.

Add these non-municipal departments to county, state, and federal police officers, as well as some school districts, and Allegheny County is covered by at least 148 individual police agencies.

Attempts to Consolidate

How can the number of departments be reduced? In Allegheny County, there are two models: closing a department and contracting out police work to another municipality, or merging existing departments to create joint ones.

For now, the Northern Regional Police Department is the only merged police department in Allegheny County. It is a collaboration between Bradford Woods Borough, Pine Township, Marshall Township and Richland Township. All four municipalities have a say in how the department is run. Joint departments some additional advantage over contractors because it is easier for residents to have more say in how the departments are run.

Seventeen municipalities don’t have their own police force, like Dravosburg Borough, in which contracts out to McKeesport. Both joint and contractor departments have advantages over smaller departments. Information is automatically shared between the municipalities, training and hiring practices are standardized, and larger departments can provide specialized services.

“In my opinion, we have too many police departments,” said Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey on Meet the Press in July. “I would try to cut the number in half, maybe by, in the next ten years or so. Because you are always going to have these kinds of issues as long as you have this many departments with different policies, procedures, training and the like.”

  • Larger version of this map here
  • To see the number of overlapping jurisdictions in any given area, see this map with semi-transparent overlays here.
  • To see both, with the "spyglass" feature for more detail, see this map here.

The Departments

Municipal Police
There are 130 municipalities within Allegheny County, of which 109 have their own police department. The Northern Regional Police Department covers Bradford Woods, Richland, Marshall, and Pine Townships.

County Police
The Allegheny County Police Department’s jurisdiction includes ‘county-owned property’, as well as ‘Pittsburgh International Airport, the County Airport, nine County Parks and other regional parks’. The map only includes county parks because ‘other regional parks’ was unclear. County buildings have been marked with a buffer that extends 250 feet from the center of the building. 
The Allegheny County Sheriff's Office also has jurisdiction in Allegheny County, but it is what areas it extends to, or whether they do any patrolling, so they are not included on the map.

Federal and State Police
The federal US Marshalls (Western District PA) has jurisdiction throughout Allegheny County, as do the Pennsylvania State Police
Also, the PA Fish and Boat Commission polices the rivers.

Transit Police
The Port Authority (PAT) Police have jurisdiction over PAT routes and nearby areas. The PAT routes are marked with a line that extends 1/10 of a mile (528 feet) around the route, a conservative estimate. Using a wider buffer instead, for example, 1000 feet -- the PAT jurisdiction looked like it blanketed the entire city of Pittsburgh.

Amtrak police have jurisdiction over Amtrak routes and nearby areas. The routes are marked with a line that extends 1/10 of a mile (528 feet) around the route. 

School Police
Most of the universities in Pittsburgh have their own police. Their jurisdictions extend across the college campuses, to student dorms, and nearby areas. For example, Carnegie Mellon University Police's "primary patrol zone... includes all campus property, Off Campus Housing & Sites, and residential areas immediately in the vicinity of the CMU Main Campus." A half mile radius from campus has been used as a conservative estimate.
·       University of Pittsburgh Police
·       Carnegie Mellon University Police
·       Carlow University Police
·       Point Park University Police
·       Robert Morris University Police
·       Chatham University Public Safety Department
·       Duquesne University Department of Public Safety

The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) has been left off the map. Each of their campuses has “a Director of Safety and Security who is also a sworn police officer”, but that one officer per campus seemed too few to count as a “department” for the purposes of this map.

The Pittsburgh Public School District also has their own police force, which is on the map with a 1/3 mile buffer. This is a rough estimate since they are responsible for students all over the city. Other school districts likely have their own forces as well but we have not confirmed those yet.

Hospital Police
UPMC employs police. The hospital does not have a webpage describing their police departments; they may simply employ police officers alongside security officers. However their police have arrest powers. Their jurisdiction is drawn as covering the hospital complexes. 

Humane Society Police
Humane Society Police Officers enforce animal cruelty laws. They are appointed per county so their jurisdiction covers the whole of Allegheny County. There are a number of Humane Society Police Officers serving Allegheny County.

If you know about another police department within Allegheny County, please send us a link to the police department’s webpage, or let us know who we can contact to confirm the department’s existence. You can contact us at silver@cmu.edu and lrenaud@andrew.cmu.edu.

Lauren Renaud is a masters student in Data Analytics and Public Policy at CMU.
Lizzie Silver is a PhD student in Logic, Computation and Methodology and a masters student in Machine Learning at CMU.