PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh police don’t have to be Pittsburghers anymore.
A labor arbitrator has ruled officers don’t have to live in the city, in a draft ruling that would require only that officers live within a 25-mile radius of the City-County Building downtown. That means if the ruling isn’t successfully appealed – and Mayor Bill Peduto hasn’t decided whether it will even be challenged – the city could draw officers from the rest of Allegheny County and parts of six neighboring counties.
The ruling issued Thursday trumps a November referendum in which voters overwhelmingly favored requiring officers to live in the city. The Bureau of Police command staff, including the police chief, would still have to live in the city.
City Councilman Ricky Burgess proposed the referendum after a state law was changed in 2012, overturning the residency requirement. The law didn’t require cities to negate residency requirements, but gave them the flexibility to.
Despite the referendum, the city’s police union appealed because its contract with the city allows the residency requirement to be bargained for, according to Bryan Campbell, the attorney for Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, which represents the city’s roughly 840 rank-and-file officers.
No other city workers can live outside of Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Public Schools, which are separate from city government, allows teachers to live elsewhere, but other employees must also live in the city.
Critics of the ruling contend officers who live outside the city won’t understand Pittsburgh’s nuances, including race relations. Union officials believe the city will attract better police from a deeper labor pool.
“I think what this ruling does is it affords the city of Pittsburgh an opportunity to get the best candidates for the position of police officer,” said union president, Sgt. Mike LaPorte.
LaPorte said some officers with children in city schools fear retaliation by the friends or relatives of those who officers arrest. But LaPorte, who has children and doesn’t plan to move, said he wouldn’t expect a mass exodus.
Some city council members said the ruling shows the arbitration process is broken, and some community activists predict the move will harm police relations with the black community.
“How can you understand the culture and dynamics and the people if you don’t have any type of relationship with them?” asked T. Rashad Byrdsong, president of the Community Empowerment Association in Homewood, one of the city’s highest-crime neighborhoods. “If the police officers want to move into the suburbs, perhaps they should get jobs in the areas where they live.”
Peduto favors keeping the residence requirement, but said he would be willing to relent if the police union were to bend on other issues, including the ways officers are recruited, retained and disciplined.
LaPorte said any such reciprocal changes will have to wait until after the current contract expires in December.