Public supports city police residency requirement, council approves bill

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JUST ENOUGH FOR THE CITY—Old, young, neighbors, strangers, activist and daughters of police officers came together to support a referendum question on requiring police to live in the city. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

 

Because she lives in the city, in the Black community, and because she knew the women who staged a sit-in on Centre Avenue after the George Zimmerman verdict, Pittsburgh Zone 1 commander Rashall Brackney was able to defuse a situation that otherwise would have ended in multiple arrests.

During a July 18 public hearing before city council, several residents agreed that kind of police/connection is already rare enough that it should not be eroded further by allowing Pittsburgh police to live outside the city.

Citizens for Police Accountability President Brandi Fisher said forging a working relationship between the police and the community is already difficult.

“There is no way to have a positive relationship with people you don’t know,” she said. “They need to be closer, not further away.”

Northview Heights Citizens Council President Valerie Lauw, said police have no connection with her community at all, and treat it “like a war zone.”

“There are no Black police coming to Northview to do anything,” she said. “It’s a bunch of White cops harassing and arresting and Tasering our young men.”

In all, about 100 city residents, mostly Black, attended the hearing on Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess’ proposal to place a police residency requirement referendum on the November General Election ballot.  All supported the measure.

Black Political Empowerment Project Founder Tim Stevens urged council to approve the referendum legislation because the problem of hiring more Black police officers will get even worse if the recruiting pool is expanded from a city that is 26-percent African-American to a county that is 13 percent African-American.

“If police are allowed to move out, diversity will be diluted further. We’ll have officers coming in with possibly no experience with young African-American or Hispanics,” he said.

Rashad Byrdsong, founder of the Community Empowerment Association, said though he supports the residency requirement, it’s not enough. He said the Bureau of Police needs to be under federal supervision, as it was in the late 1990s.

Burgess said the referendum initiative is the only legislative avenue he had, given changes in state law.

Last year, the section of state law that covers municipalities requiring police residency was amended, changing the language from “shall require” to “may require,” meaning it could be subject to collective bargaining. And because residency was not negotiated in the current contract, the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge #1 immediately filed for arbitration to have the requirement lifted.

“I’m confident the intent of the legislature was to give municipalities the option to negotiate residency,” said Burgess. “They did not intend to have the matter decided by three arbitrators.”

Louis “Hop” Kendrick said he favored the requirement, but said Council can and should vote to amend the city charter without a referendum.

“We already had a referendum when we voted you onto council,” he said. “And I’m very disappointed to only see four of you (Natalia Rudiak, Darlene Harris, Theresa Kail-Smith and Burgess) here.”

Burgess said a referendum is better because if and when the arbitrators’ ruling is appealed to Common Pleas Court, it would carry more weight.

“I believe it will be overwhelmingly approved by the voters,” he said. “I don’t think a judge will want to rule against the will of the people.”

The FOP has already made its case to the arbitration panel that the requirement is anti-competitive, costing them recruits and veteran officers to suburban departments that pay more. The city is scheduled to make its presentation to the panel in late September.

 

UPDATE FROM AP

Pittsburgh bill requires employees to live in city

PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Pittsburgh City Council has unanimously approved a bill that could give voters an opportunity to decide whether city police and employees should be required to live within city limits.

The Tuesday vote means the question could be put on ballots for the November election, but it’s not clear how the results will impact an ongoing dispute between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, which has challenged the requirement. An arbitration panel is currently hearing that case and a ruling is expected in the fall.

A city lawyer advised the council that they had the legal authority to put the question to voters.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl must sign the measure within 10 days for it to go on the ballot.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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