By Lizzie Silver and Lauren Renaud
This article was written as part of SUDS’ partnership with the Alliance for Police Accountability.
“Did you know that there are over one hundred police departments in Allegheny County alone?” Prof David Harris offered this factoid at the panel discussion following the April 12 screening of Peace Officer. It sat at the back of our minds until finals were over and we started looking for a new mapping project. Spoiler alert: we were ‘only’ able to count
85 departments. [Update: we’re up to 127 departments. Details here.]
Recently, two adverse interactions between the police and the public involved officers from at least two departments: the Port Authority (PAT) Police and the City of Pittsburgh Police. The first incident involved fighting between youths and police officers at the T station downtown. In the second incident, PAT Police Officer Brian O’Malley shot and killed Bruce Kelly Jr, raising questions about PAT police policies. As Tony Norman writes, “Why the disparity in response between the officers? Why did only two of [at least eight officers] fire if Mr. Kelley was so dangerous?”
Police departments work together to solve problems when their jurisdictions overlap. Officers from different departments must coordinate with each other in high-pressure, high-stakes situations. Different departments sometimes have different training or different policies, so the way they interact with the public can vary. After the Peace Officer screening, Pittsburgh Chief of Police Cameron McLay mentioned that training on implicit bias will be available to City of Pittsburgh officers in the near future. However, that training will not be available to Port Authority officers, and officers from many other departments that have jurisdiction within the City of Pittsburgh.
Furthermore, the laws that govern Pittsburgh only apply within city limits. Recently Pittsburgh decriminalized possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana. So if you are walking down S Braddock Ave between Biddle and Whitney, smoking a blunt, the local police can only fine you $100. But walk past Overton St, and suddenly you’re committing a criminal offense that could cost you $5000, land you in prison for 30 days, and give you a criminal record, because Swissvale is outside city limits.
Even if the law is the same in different areas, the “unwritten rules” can differ. As Ryan Deto writes for the Pittsburgh City Paper:
“Mount Lebanon police cited Esquivel-Hernandez on March 26 for driving without a valid license and without insurance. He paid his fine on April 21, and according to his U.S. District Court case, he was identified as undocumented on April 25. Mount Lebanon police have not returned multiple calls requesting comment about its communication policy with ICE.
Since 2014, Pittsburgh Police have had an unwritten policy not to initiate communication with ICE about undocumented immigrants. The department will comply if ICE initiates contact. However, there is no indication that other smaller police forces in Allegheny County have adopted similar policies.”
Different police departments are also held accountable by different bodies. For example, the Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB) can investigate complaints against the the City of Pittsburgh police department, but the Port Authority Police do not answer to the CPRB, only to the District Attorney. DA Stephen Zappala exonerated Officers O’Malley and Rivotti for shooting Mr Bruce Kelly Jr, a questionable but unsurprising result, given how rarely police officers face charges for shooting citizens.
[Update: see also our post about the problems of small police departments.]
We thought it’d be helpful for the public to know where the different police departments’ jurisdictions are located. This may help if:
- You are wondering which police departments you are likely to interact with in a given area;
- You need to contact the police, and are wondering which department to call; or
- You have had an interaction with police officers, but you are not sure which department they were from.
We welcome feedback and additional information. We hope this map helps inform citizens about the different departments that serve them, and helps to start a conversation about standardizing training and policies for officers from different departments.
[Note: This updated version has more police departments included and a better color scheme. Our original, less complete version can still be accessed here.]
- 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.
There are 130 municipalities within Allegheny County, of which 70 have their own police department. We matched the county’s list of police departments to a list of municipality borders from the county’s GIS department. One municipal police department could not be matched by name: the Northern Region Police Dept in Gibsonia, PA. It may be a joint department covering multiple municipalities. We’ve assumed that the other municipal police departments only cover the areas they are named after. However, some municipalities have joint agreements so that a single department will patrol two municipalities. For example, North Versailles police currently patrol Wilmerding (although from 2017 onward that duty will fall to Allegheny County police). We are not aware of most of these agreements, so we can’t put them on the map. If you have more information about these agreements, please email us at our contacts below.
[Update: Thanks to feedback from JI Swiderski, we have corrected this layer of the map. Allegheny County has 130 municipalities, of which 109 have their own police department, 4 share the Northern Region joint police department, 15 contract their police services out to a nearby municipality, and 2 contract out to state police. Allegheny County’s list of police departments includes information on these contracts. We matched that list to the list of municipality borders from the county’s GIS department, so the updated map shows which PD has jurisdiction in every municipality. More details we’ve updated here.]
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’. We weren’t sure which ‘other regional parks’ were included, so we only mapped out the county parks. We have marked all county buildings with a spot that extends 250 feet from the center of the building. We got the building locations and the park shapefiles from from the county’s GIS website.
The Allegheny County Police might also patrol municipalities that don’t have their own police departments, but we weren’t sure which ones (if any), so we have not included any on the map.
The Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office also has jurisdiction in Allegheny County, but we weren’t sure what areas it extends to, or whether they do any patrolling, so we have not included them on the map.
Federal and State Police
[Update: The PA Fish and Boat Commission polices the rivers.]
The Port Authority (PAT) Police have jurisdiction over PAT routes and nearby areas. We have marked the PAT routes with a line that extends 1/10 of a mile (528 feet) around the route. We think this is a conservative estimate of how far the PAT jurisdiction extends. However, if we widened the buffer much further — say, to 1000 feet — the PAT jurisdiction looked like it blanketed the entire city of Pittsburgh. We got the shapefiles from the City’s GIS website.
Amtrak police have jurisdiction over Amtrak routes and nearby areas. We have marked the Amtrak routes with a line that extends 1/10 of a mile (528 feet) around the route. We got the shapefiles from ArcGIS.
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.” We do not have shapefiles for the college campuses, so instead of tracing the shape of each campus, we’ve just put big circles on the map (centered on each campus, with a radius of half a mile). There is one circle, half mile radius each for:
- 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
We left the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) off the map. Each of their campuses has “a Director of Safety and Security who is also a sworn police officer”, but we felt that one officer per campus was too few to count as a “department” for the purposes of this map.
UPMC employs police. St Clair Hospital Police “will issue citations to those who violate parking and traffic regulations”. Neither hospital has a webpage describing their police departments; they may simply employ police officers alongside security officers. However their police have arrest powers and are employed by the hospital so we put them on the map. We assume that their jurisdictions cover the hospital complexes. We have put circles on the map for each UPMC building complex and for St Clair Hospital. We weren’t sure how large to make the circles, so we put circles with radius of both 250 feet and 500 feet around the center of the buildings; you can turn one overlay off if you prefer.
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.
Assumptions and Open Questions
We’ve tried to be conservative in our estimates of where the departments’ jurisdictions extend to, but we may have made some mistakes. We also have some open questions, such as:
- What kind of authority, if any, do Block Watch Groups have?
- Do some correctional facilities have their own police? Do corrections officers have arrest powers in PA?
- Does the Allegheny County Police Department only have jurisdiction over buildings that house county departments and services, or all county-owned buildings?
- Should the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office count as another department? If so, what is its jurisdiction?
- Do UPMC Police cover all UPMC hospitals, or only certain ones? What sort of authority do they have?
Which police department(s) have jurisdiction over the municipalities that do not have their own police force? We believe it may be the County Police or that some departments that are listed as a specific municipality may also cover their neighboring towns, but we need more clarification on this.
This map may not be complete. 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. Also, if we have made a mistake, please let us know so we can correct it. You can contact us at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
In their spare time they participate in Students for Urban Data Systems at CMU, and do research for the Alliance for Police Accountability.