January 29, 2023
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Pittsburgh Chief Scott Schubert closes book on 30-year policing career

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The profession to which Scott Schubert has dedicated himself for 30 years and idolized since childhood has undeniably changed.

As the son of a Pittsburgh police officer, he wore his father’s hat and shined his black dress shoes. He recalls the respect his father both commanded and gave. It all had an air of nobility, he said.

“All I ever wanted to do was be a Pittsburgh police officer,” Schubert said in late 2016 when he was named acting chief.

As a chief, he has presided over a department in turmoil, facing calls from some to defund and abolish the police bureau while working to remove problem officers and regain a level of trust among both the rank and file and the public.

Schubert’s last day as chief of police was Friday and he was reflective in his last hours on the job.

“I love being a Pittsburgh police officer. I love our city,” Schubert said. “I’m going to miss going around, I’m going to miss going to calls, I’m going to miss events, miss working with the community and talking to the community and just being myself.”

Schubert, 55, will remain in Pittsburgh, though not full-time. He’ll also have an apartment in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he will serve as the FBI’s section chief overseeing Global Law Enforcement Support. He’ll come home to Pittsburgh and his family on weekends and some weeknights.

While Schubert rose to the highest-ranking position in the Pittsburgh police bureau, that’s not what he said he’ll remember most.

“People always say, ‘Being the chief, is that your most memorable moment, being sworn in?’” he said. “But it wasn’t. It was getting sworn in as a Pittsburgh police officer with my dad there and my mom — just getting to become like him.”

His late father, Floyd, served in the department from 1965 to 1995, and his uncle, Leo Mullen, was an officer from 1950 to 1983. Mullen’s father served during the early part of the 1900s.

Schubert said he can remember carrying his father’s nightstick and hat down the stairs to him when he left for work each day. Once, sometime in the 1970s, his dad showed up to a school event in Schenley Park in his patrol car — a big white Ford with the round red light on top. He remembers University of Pittsburgh football games, which his dad was detailed to, and seeing future NFL greats in their early years.

Schubert began in the department as a Zone 5 patrolman in 1992. He worked his way through the ranks and was promoted to assistant chief in 2014. Less than three years later, he was leading the bureau.

He took over a department in turmoil.

Months of union consternation culminated in a no-confidence vote against then-Chief Cameron McLay — the first person from outside the bureau to be named chief in more than a century. This came after former Chief Nate Harper was sent to federal prison after pleading guilty to felony counts of conspiracy and failing to file income tax returns. McLay resigned in November 2016, and Schubert was named acting chief. Former Mayor Bill Peduto later made it permanent.

“There were a lot of different things that we were trying to implement, but if you try to implement too much at the same time, that can overwhelm your organization,” he said. “Day 1, I was ready to go. I had the historical knowledge of our department, of our city, a love for our city and love for our officers, a love for what they do with our profession.”

The turmoil — and his passion for doing what he thinks is best for his community and his officers — remained near-constant during his tenure.

In October 2018, the department nearly lost several officers in a shootout with accused Tree of Life gunman Robert Bowers. First responders kept Bowers contained to the synagogue while taking fire, and SWAT officers who breached the building found themselves in a gun battle before they could take Bowers into custody.

Days later, thousands of people marched in solidarity and for peace through Squirrel Hill. As the mass of people moved past the Zone 4 police station on Northumberland Street, they clapped. The applause lasted for the entire length of the march.

Schubert describes the whiplash that came a year and a half later when, after the murder of George Floyd, police and protesters clashed in the streets in protests in Pittsburgh and nationwide.

“It hurt,” he said of the swift shift in public opinion, particularly locally. “It was difficult to see where we had so much support from the community before that and those that were supporting us quickly just didn’t want anything to do with us. I think that hurt a lot of people, a lot of our officers.”

Schubert condemned the Minneapolis officers’ actions from the start, but anger and calls for reform — in some cases, for the abolition of the police bureau — spilled into the streets, exacerbated in some instances by a police response that involved munitions against protesters.

He said he received thousands of emails that summer. Many of the writers were angry.

“What some officers do in the performance of their duties is not right, and there are people in our profession that shouldn’t be in our profession,” he said. “But it seemed like we blame all of law enforcement for the faults of a few or reckless behavior of a few or whatever when the vast majority of police officers do this job because they really want to help people.”

It was the urge to help that led him to kneel at one of those protests.

On a cloudy Friday in Beechview less than two weeks after Floyd was killed, Schubert stood by monitoring the protest as he’d done nearly every day since May 25. As he listened to co-organizer Camille Redman, he was struck by her push for a peaceful protest focused on Floyd’s murder rather than one aimed strictly at all police.

“What she was talking about is what happened in Minnesota, and what happened there was wrong. A person lost their life,” he said, noting that the law enforcement officers who were there were encouraged to participate. “And so I walked with them.”

The group stopped on West Liberty Avenue.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” Schubert said. “I’ve always recognized in my position … (that) I have to be the chief of our officers and I have to be the chief for our community. I have to be there for both.”

Throughout the tumult — the pandemic, the civil unrest, the responsibility that comes with keeping officers and residents safe — there were many more bright spots than dark moments, Schubert said.

One of those bright spots was Peach.

Out walking the beat in early spring 2021, Schubert noticed two kittens abandoned in an empty lot in Arlington, one orange, one black. He said the black didn’t want much to do with him. But over the course of days as he fed the cats and brought them water, the orange one came to trust him until one day she was rubbing against his leg.

The plan never included keeping her. He looked for someone to foster her until she found a permanent home, all the while making sure that he’d be able to visit her. Then he took his family to visit her. The look for Peach’s forever home ended then.

“I just love her,” he said.

The chief’s tone changes in speaking of Peach, the same way it does when he talks about his work with the Special Olympics, the Polar Plunge, the Law Enforcement Torch Run and his newly formed nonprofit with Leon Ford, a Pittsburgh police shooting survivor.

They are bright spots in a job that he admits involves no small amount of trauma. Those bright spots tie in to the larger draw of law enforcement for Schubert: the community and the people.

It’s part of the reason he chose the federal job he is moving on to.

“I had an opportunity to be able to help law enforcement across the country and still be involved in community engagement,” he said of the role.

It is a chance to stay connected to community in an ever-changing profession.

“It’s always changing,” Schubert said of the job. “It changed when my father was a police officer, it changed back in the early 1900s, late 1800s. It’s always evolving as things change. Case law changes, policy changes, but you just adapt to it as it goes.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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