During the run-up to Pittsburgh’s Mayoral Primary Election, eventual winner Councilman Bill Peduto said he would support lifting the requirement that police officers live within the city limits, but only as a tool to negotiate contract concession on issues like minority recruiting and hiring, work rules and staffing from the Fraternal Order of Police.

But last week his fellow Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess introduced legislation that would change the city charter to require police to live in the city, taking that tool away from the mayor’s office.  A public hearing on the legislation, which would put a residency referendum on the November ballot, is scheduled for July 18 in council chambers.

“The community I represent…they are frightened and disturbed that the police officers that patrol their streets have no personal interest in the city that they protect,” he said. “They won’t live, play…and worship in the city.”

Until recently, the issue was moot, as state law required police to be city residents, but the law was amended last year, allowing the issue to be negotiated.  Burgess said lifting the requirement would increase tensions between police and the Black community he represents, effectively turning police into an “occupying force.”

FOP President Sgt. Mike LaPorte said there will always be tension because officers usually come to the neighborhood when something bad has happened, not “for the good times.” He also said officers’ children and families are sometimes subjected to intimidation.  Police officers, he argued, should be able to choose where to live based on things like the quality of schools.

Burgess’ proposal followed the arrest of teacher Dennis Henderson, and momentary detention of New Pittsburgh Courier photographer Rossano Stewart outside a Homewood community meeting after the teacher yelled at an officer who sped by them.

And on July 15, an officer detained a 6-year-old North Side boy; he said was trying to steal bicycles when the boy hit him, attempted to take his gun and then bit him.

Burgess appears to have the votes needed to pass the legislation, with Theresa Kail-Smith, Corey O’Connor, Bruce Kraus and Darlene Harris all saying they support the bill.

However, even if council passes the legislation, the referendum could be rendered meaningless because the FOP has challenged the residency requirement. Arguments will be presented to a trio of arbitrators Sept. 23.

Peduto could not be reached for comment by the New Pittsburgh Courier’s deadline.

The public hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Anyone wishing to speak must register with the city clerk at 412-255-2142.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)


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