While Officer Tonya Ford travelled to Harrisburg on Feb. 8 to advocate for a youth crime prevention program with local State Rep. Jake Wheatley and City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, controversy surrounding the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and Chief Nate Harper was rising to a fever pitch.
A few days later, a Channel 4 News crew ascended on Ford’s home to shoot footage of her house for a story on her private business and connections to Chief Harper. The story produced by Channel 4 included the value of her house, how much she made in take home pay last year, and footage of the vehicle her husband uses in work for the FBI.
Ford has been thrust into the spotlight due to controversy surrounding Chief Harper, who is currently involved in a federal investigation regarding a city contract with a firm that was paid to install radios and computers into Pittsburgh police cars. While new allegations seem to be sprouting daily in the media against Harper and his subordinates, none has been charged with a crime, or disciplined within the Police Bureau.
Among the media’s allegations of impropriety is Harper and Ford’s involvement in Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC, a company formed along with colleagues Cmdr. Eric Holmes, Sgt. Barry Budd, and Tamara Davis, who works in the police personnel and finance office. However, Ford said the company does not violate any laws or policies because it is not yet operational.
“They are attacking me as if no other police have businesses,” Ford said. “Are you investigating the people who you know have these companies? I don’t really care, but if you’re coming after me, it (shouldn’t) be a double standard.”
The media has also attacked Ford for selling goods and services through her private business D&T Enterprises, which provided catering at a police event, and for selling police memorabilia through her company Police Memories. According to the city code of conduct, Ford’s actions could be considered an ethics violation because employees are prohibited “from using official title, insignia or position in connection with any private business from which the public official or city employee receives compensation.”
But how common are side businesses like Ford’s among other police officers? According to news reports on the Jordan Miles case, where three police officers were accused of beating a then 18-year-old CAPA High School student, a private polygraph firm owned by a Ross Township police officer administered polygraph tests on the three officers. In the city, police officers are trained in self-defense techniques at Wright’s Gym, which is owned by a veteran officer on the force.