May 25, 2024

There’s an old apocryphal (read that as “probably BS”) story floating around the interwebs that has to do with a lady calling the police late at night to report two men with crowbars breaking into her garden shed. “Sorry,” the dispatcher tells her, “There aren’t any officers available. We can’t dispatch officers unless it’s a real emergency.” The lady waits a few moments, then calls 911 again, this time to report she has just shot two men breaking into her garden shed.


Within moments several police cars arrive and apprehend the two notably healthy and un-shot burglars. One of the officers told her, “I thought you reported that you’d shot two men?”

The lady replied, “I thought you said there weren’t any officers available.”

This scene, or similar ones, could well be unfolding soon in Pittsburgh, where the local police department is warning that they won’t dispatch officers except for an “ongoing” emergency.

In a move to manage resources amidst staffing challenges, Pittsburgh police have announced changes to their response protocols that will include officers no longer responding to calls not considered “in-progress emergencies.” Such calls would include incidents such as theft, harassment, and burglary alarms.

Instead, calls will be directed to a telephone recording unit, where reports can be filed over the phone, according to WPXI Channel 11. Additionally, from 3 am to 7 am, the city’s six police stations will operate without desk officers present. During these hours, only about 20 officers will be available for overnight shifts to cover the entire city. Call boxes linked to 911 will be available for emergencies during this time.


I’m sure everything will be just fine. The Pittsburgh PD surely has its priorities in order, just like every other law-enforcement apparatus in the country. Right?


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Well, the Pittsburgh police union has some concerns.

However, the Pittsburgh Police Officers’ Union expressed concerns about the policy change, attributing it directly to the department’s understaffing. Union President Bob Swartzwelder highlighted the challenges faced by officers and cautioned against potential contract violations resulting from overcommitment and under-resourcing of the police department.

“The staffing plan designed by police command is a direct response to a seriously understaffed police department,” Swartzwelder said in a statement. “Only time will tell if the plan works or the Chief will need to pivot and modify his plan quickly.”

Here in Alaska, as I’ve noted in the past, in evenings and on weekends, we may have four Alaska State Troopers to cover an area roughly the size of the state of Arkansas. We get along pretty well even so because unlike Pittsburgh there are a lot of miles between people, and here in the Valley, even the hippies have guns and know how to use them. 


Pittsburgh residents would be well advised to follow Libs of TikTok’s advice above. Arm yourselves, because in the event of a no-s**t emergency, you might be on your own. While the Pittsburgh PD assures residents that emergency calls will be answered, a non-emergency can escalate to an emergency with uncanny speed.

If you’re in Pittsburgh – or, indeed, any major city – arm yourselves as best you can. Things will likely keep getting more interesting.

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