Should police officers live in the city?

Well, an FBI or federal government agent has to live in this country. A state trooper has to live in the state he represents. A county police officer has to live in the county. And to the best of my knowledge various borough police officers have to live in that borough. So why should it be any different for the city of Pittsburgh police?

Recently City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess held a hearing on this issue; should police officers have to live in the city? The result after several residents gave testimony was that the vast majority of residents were against allowing them to live outside the city. Afterwards, the council voted 9-0 to have a referendum voted on by city residents at the general election in November. This sounds like a good idea, but it could backfire.

The vast majority of Blacks are against police officers living outside of the city, but it’s not clear just where the White community stands. Blacks only make up 30 percent of the city.

So what if the vote is to allow the officers to live outside the city, which would make police, Black community relations even more of a nightmare.

It was pointed out to me that City Council had control over this. They could overrule any decision between the mayor and the FOP changing residency guidelines. They could have also changed the recent change in the law allowing the city to possibly allow officers to live outside the city. But if the voters change the law in the referendum then there will be nothing the council or the mayor can do.

Mayor elect Bill Peduto along with his two former opponents supported the idea of officers being able to live outside the city, stating that it would help get and keep more qualified officers on the force. Even Rep. Jake Wheatley supported it.

I think it would be a nightmare. There’s a huge problem now between police and the Black community, and an even bigger problem recruiting and hiring Blacks on the force. I don’t see how this would help.

Being a devoted city dweller, I simply don’t see what the suburbs have to offer other than higher prices and longer travel time to work. There’s something to the idea of knowing your community, and the people in it.

If a person grows up in Homewood, Hill District, Manchester or other parts of the city he or she understands that community. They know who the criminals are, they know who the good people are and the bad people in the community. That is the issue. They know all communities are made up of mostly good people with a small group of bad people, who actually cause problems for the entire community. But when a person is commuting in and out of a community because they don’t feel that community is safe enough for themselves and their family to live in then it becomes a serious problem because this is when they start looking on this community as filled with criminals and low lifes, not worthy of treating with respect.

But when you live in the community or city in which you work you become more concerned because it not only affects you but it affects your children, your parents, other relatives and friends. You can’t walk away from it after your shift is over, because it’s a part of you and your family. This motivates these professionals to work in after school programs, talk to kids at church, and youth in the community. They also serve as positive role models because young people get to see policemen as just people. Just Miss Brenda, or Mr. Eric. They see them in church, at the clubs, at entertainment and social events, and vice versa.

If more professionals didn’t run out to the suburbs and chose to live in the city think of how great this would be for our communities. More of the vacant lots, or houses would be filled with middle to upper income working people instead of sitting vacant and decaying while we are paying twice as much for the same home in the suburbs.

We fought hard during the ‘60s and ‘70s to get more Blacks on the police and fire departments, as well as all the other professional fields. But what really has been accomplished if we all move out of our communities because of stereotyping instead of standing our ground and fighting for our communities? The argument of the city losing good officers because the boroughs are offering them more doesn’t make sense, because if these boroughs are going to offer more money and benefits it doesn’t matter where the officer is living. In fact if the officer were already living in that borough it would make it even easier. I also feel that if an officer has a problem living in the city, then it’s better for the city and him if he does move out and get a job in another city, town or borough. So I don’t see it as a loss when an officer leaves the city, because it opens up a spot for someone who wants to live and work in the city. 

My thanks to Rev. Burgess for bringing this to the city’s attention, I just wish it had been to force city residents to put more pressure on the incoming mayor and city council to keep our police and other city employees living in the city. This will help keep city services at its current high level.

Yes, I love living in the city and I repeat, I think the services are far superior to just about all the suburbs and cheaper.

(Ulish Carter is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier. He can be reached at ucarter@newpittsburghcourier.com)


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