In the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of unarmed, black 17-year-old Antwon Rose in a municipality adjacent to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, much discussion has focused on the inadequacies of the municipality’s police department. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala reportedly described a “lack of [police] policies and procedures in East Pittsburgh” that may have played a role in Rose’s death.
Last January Michael Rosfeld, the man who killed Rose and who has since been charged with criminal homicide, left his previous job with the University of Pittsburgh police after he filed a report, later determined to be false, that resulted in the arrest of three young men. Lee Merritt, the Rose family attorney, argues that Rosfeld’s abuse of authority was not an isolated incident. Many have questioned why East Pittsburgh hired this officer with his questionable record.
One answer is that they may not be able to afford any better.
Smaller municipalities in the state compete with their wealthier neighbors in attracting the best public servants. According to a 2018 article in the Tribune Review, the City of Pittsburgh pays starting officers $44,710 per year, while Bethel Park, a suburb to the south with a higher median income, pays $63,647. Starting salaries can go much lower in poorer municipalities, where several police departments are staffed by part-time officers. When a municipality like East Pittsburgh, where more than 26 percent of residents live below the poverty line (a rate more than double the county average), chooses to pay for a municipal police department, it is making a choice to forgo free coverage from the state police and to spend money that could be used for other community services. It’s a trend mirrored across the country: Communities coast to coast are diverting funds that could be used for social services to policing. Reversing this trend is one of the demands of the Movement for Black Lives.