Staff Editorial: Former police Chief receives harsh sentence

By Duke Staff

Pittsburgh citizens are rightly upset that former police Chief Nate Harper stole $32,000 of public money and spent it lavishly on himself. He spent the embezzled cash on everything from fine dining to a home oven. A federal judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison for his crimes.

“I made a mistake, and it has been devastating. It has tarnished the law enforcement community. I’m a broken man,” Harper told U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon before she sentenced him. But is an apology enough?

While it’s easy to drop the hammer on Harper and develop a mistrust of local government due to his actions (not to mention other officials that appear to be under federal investigation such as former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl) a few things should be noted.

Harper was a police officer for 36 years, moving up the ranks to chief after decades of service. If that says anything about Harper and the Pittsburgh police department, it’s this: the former chief was a man dedicated to the justice system judging by the amount of time he put in.

City leaders should reevaluate how long top department heads should serve and perhaps more closely monitor their actions. Harper was chief for seven years, allowing him greater access and the ability to sit comfortably inside the system. That combination of oversight and access gave Harper the opportunity to commit crimes that those outside the system would not be as easy to complete otherwise.

If you’re shocked at the mere 18 months Harper will be spending in prison, you shouldn’t be. Bissoon came to her decision after following the suggested 18 to 24 month prison term set by federal guidelines. Rather than directing distaste to Harper or Bissoon, who said his position as chief earned him such a sentence, look at how federal courts calculate sentences instead.

While The Duke isn’t supporting Harper’s actions, we do understand how one could be tempted to commit such actions. But rather than arguing if the sentencing was just or not, the people of Pittsburgh need to keep their faith in our justice system. Mayor Bill Peduto said it best in a press release, sent out Tuesday.

“This is a sad day for our city but a chance for rebirth within our police bureau. With the community’s support, I am committed to breaking with the past, championing ethics and accountability from top to bottom, and rebuilding a department that all city residents, including rank and file officers, can be proud of.”

Let’s hope Peduto follows through on this commitment.