What is the value of community-based policing? Pittsburgh residents may soon find out. As Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh City paper reports in his April 3rd column, Pittsburgh’s long-standing requirement that city police officers live in the city is unlikely to be in effect for much longer.
Pittsburgh police have long been required to live within the city limits. Until recently, police residency was required under Pennsylvania state law. However, the state mandate was repealed last year, making the issue of residency a matter to be decided through contract negotiations between the police force and the city. The position of the mayor’s office will thus likely be a principal, if not dispositive factor in determining whether the requirement will stand.
Pittsburgh is currently in the middle of a heated mayoral campaign. When the election began this winter, two of the three major contenders for the office supported retaining the residency requirement for Pittsburgh police. However, as of April 1st, both of those candidates have dropped out of the race, leaving a field in which the only serious challengers are open to lifting the requirement.
Proponents of the residency requirement argue that city neighborhoods are safer with police living there while they are off-duty and that Pittsburgh has an interest in keeping officers’ government salaries within city limits. Opponents counter that officers don’t live in the neighborhoods most in need of community-based police, that the residency requirement prevents the city from attracting the best new officers and, perhaps most importantly, that the requirement causes experienced officers to leave the city and seek employment elsewhere, depriving the city of its investment in their training and development.
On the other side of the state, Philadelphia recently relaxed its own requirement by allowing officers to move out of the city after five years of service. While Philadelphia has not seen particularly adverse effects as of yet – approximately 100 of 6,600 officers have moved – critics warn that it is too soon to draw any definitive conclusions based on the Philadelphia experience.
Pittsburgh will effectively choose its mayor in the Democratic primary on May 21st. Regardless of who wins the election, the residency requirement will likely be a key issue in upcoming contract negotiations between the city and the police. Those negotiations will determine what exactly the Pittsburgh police will have to give up – recruitment standards and department promotion policy are both reportedly on the table – for the joys of suburban living.