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Pittsburgh officers challenge residency requirement

More than just response times on recall at stake, say officers, citing concerns over safety and proximity to those they have arrested

By Moriah Balingit
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — An arbitration panel that will determine the future of the Pittsburgh police residency requirement heard testimony from two city councilmen Monday, who argued that the requirement should stay.

All city of Pittsburgh employees, including police officers, are required to live within city limits. But last October, state legislators amended a state law that opened the door for the police union that represents Pittsburgh's rank-and-file officers to challenge the requirement.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 1, the matter went to arbitration.

In June, several police officers testified about the hardship the residency requirement has created for them. Some lamented about the poor quality of city schools and about safety issues that come with living within proximity to the streets they patrol and the criminals they arrest.

Monday's hearing was an opportunity for the city to make its case. Councilmen Bruce Kraus and Ricky Burgess both spoke at length in support of the residency requirement in a closed hearing.

Mr. Kraus, relaying what he told the panel, said he believed officers should be required to live within the city so they have a better understanding of the neighborhoods they patrol.

"Living here and participating on a regular daily basis ... is the best way to police and understand the policing issues in a complex district," he said. "It's important to be woven into the fabric of that community that you represent."

Bryan Campbell, the attorney for the police union, said he anticipates a decision from the panel sometime in October. The panel consists of three arbitrators — Mr. Campbell, who was selected by the FOP; attorney Joseph F. Quinn, selected by the city; and neutral arbitrator John Skonier.

The decision could be appealed to state court by either party.

Complicating matters, Mr. Burgess, who could not be reached for comment, put a measure on the ballot to allow city voters to weigh in on the residency requirements. He believes that voters will support the residency requirement.

But it's not clear what legal weight the referendum will hold if, for example, the arbitration panel overturns the residency requirement but voters elect to keep it in place.

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee

Copyright 2013 The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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