Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pittsburgh Public Schools police chief is fired - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

More than 11 months after he was placed on paid administrative leave, Robert Fadzen, longtime safety chief of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, has been fired.

At its regular legislative meeting Wednesday, the school board voted 8-0, with Regina Holley abstaining, to terminate -- effective the same day -- the employment of Mr. Fadzen, who had run the school police since 1996.

Mr. Fadzen has been off the job since last September as a result of a controversy about his pulling over an ambulance on Route 65. Mr. Fadzen, who did not issue a citation, contended the driver had been driving erratically Downtown in a nonemergency situation.

The two ambulance staff members complained that Mr. Fadzen acted unprofessionally.

That led to a dismissal hearing that lasted nearly 80 hours over eight days and an 89-page findings of fact and conclusions of law released Wednesday. The hearing was open to the public at Mr. Fadzen's request.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Fadzen said, "I will tell you on the record that I'm obviously saddened by their decision. Disappointment is a better word. I want to thank the city of Pittsburgh for giving me the honor and privilege of protecting and serving its children for 17 years."

The board document said Mr. Fadzen had been given repeated warnings over a period of years that his jurisdiction by law was limited to inside school buildings, on school buses and on school grounds.

"Despite what might be perceived by Mr. Fadzen, the school safety department is not a municipal police force," the document stated.

It said Mr. Fadzen contended that a school board policy expanded his jurisdiction to permit him to enforce traffic laws within 1,000 yards of a school building.

He testified that the was parked by Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 Downtown doing a traffic study when he observed the ambulance.

However, the document stated that only a court order can expand jurisdiction.

It noted that he was directed in 2000 by acting Superintendent Helen Faison that he and his staff were not to leave the district boundaries without authorization, was given a memo by then solicitor Stephanie Royal in 2002 staying it was unlikely he had 1,000-yard jurisdiction and was told by District Magistrate Nancy Longo in 2005 about his limitations in a traffic stop that resulted in a lawsuit in 2007. At that point, solicitor Ira Weiss reiterated the restrictions.

The document stated he was given a written reprimand in 2009 by Jody Spolar, currently district executive director of human resources, cautioning him that "should he utilize profanity or engage in other misconduct in the future, it could result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal."

The document said the testimony of the NorthWest EMS staff was credible on the July 22, 2011, incident, and -- based on that as well as cell phone records -- the board did not believe Mr. Fadzen's account, which disagreed on the date as well as other matters.

From time to time, the school safety office has been the center of controversy.

In 2002, a federal jury awarded more than $215,000 to a former Pittsburgh Public Schools police officer, Ron Mancini, who said he was unfairly demoted. The district already had reached settlements with nine other security employees who complained of poor treatment.

The 10 cases centered around charges of racial discrimination that several black security officers first made in 1998 against Mr. Fadzen, who is white.

At the time, Mr. Fadzen and school officials said the allegations were fabricated for various reasons, including to oppose Mr. Fadzen's attempts to make the safety department more professional.

In 2006, Mr. Fadzen urged the board to approve adding dogs to the force, one to detect narcotics and the other to detect guns. Mr. Fadzen said guns and narcotics had been found outside elementary, middle and high schools. While some board members spoke against it, the motion passed 5-4.

Over the years, Mr. Fadzen spoke frequently about his efforts to make the school police and security guards more professional and to protect children.

In 2006, after Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt and then Mayor Bob O'Connor joined forces to create "safety zones" within a 1,000-foot radius of schools, Mr. Fadzen pledged to tackle the truancy problem and increase training for school security guards.

"We're going to take steps no other city has taken to keep these kids safe," Mr. Fadzen said.

City school police officers do not carry weapons although, in a 2009 story in the Post-Gazette, Mr. Fadzen said he would like to have his officers carry the same weapons that city officers do, including firearms and Taser devices.

In 2010 at a regional gang awareness conference, Mr. Fadzen said the number of guns seized by police from students inside school facilities had fallen from about 18 a year to three or four. He said distribution of drugs ranging from heroin to Viagra continued as a problem feeding violence.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

First published on August 23, 2012 at 12:00 am

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