PA Supreme Court Rules Pittsburgh Police Can Live Outside The City

May 22, 2017

**UPDATED: 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that Pittsburgh Police officers don't have to live inside city limits.

The decision overturns a long-standing city residency requirement upheld in January by a 4-3 ruling in the State Commonwealth Court.

Attorneys representing local police argued now and in the past that officers should be allowed to live outside the city for their own safety. KDKA reports that included the freedom to be more selective when considering area school districts.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement Monday that he disagrees with the high court's decision. 

"We want our police officers to continue to live in the neighborhoods and communities that they serve," he said. "We defended the will of the residents of Pittsburgh, all the way to the Supreme Court, believing that the law that allowed Pittsburgh to become a Home Rule Charter city should have taken precedence."

Brandi Fisher, director of the Alliance for Police Accountability, echoed Peduto. She said having officers live in the city creates a sense of community. 

"Building real relationships happens when you can see people at the store, when you live in the same neighborhoods, in the same communities," Fisher said. 

It's ironic, she said, that officers would choose to live outside of the city to access better schools and housing. 

“It just goes to show a mentality towards the people in the city," Fisher said. "If your feeling is that its poor housing, poor communities, poor schooling, then you already have ... some sort of disdain in the way that you’re looking at these communities.”

Sheldon Williams, now an administrative pastor at Allegheny Center Alliance Church, worked in public safety for more than two decades, including 16 years with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Williams, who lived and patrolled in Homewood, said he understands the ruling might give the public a negative perception of officers' intentions.

"I understand some of the challenges with safety and schooling," he said, recalling sketchy moments in his driveway or mowing his lawn as suspects in the cases he worked roamed nearby. "Because of the nature of the job, there are issues that can arise when you are charged with protecting and serving in the area you might live."

The residency requirement forcibly shaped a multicultural frame of reference, he said.

"It takes intentional effort to want to be part of your community, to want to embrace it and the people in the community," Williams said. "But in the long term, I don't think there will really be much impact if the officers' hearts are to really do the jobs that they're called to do."

The Allegheny County Common Pleas Court ruled in November that an arbitration panel would be allowed to decide the matter. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported at the time that the Commonwealth Court disagreed, citing the city’s Home Rule Charter.

The charter, approved by 80 percent of voters in 2013, requires that all Pittsburgh employees live in the city.

The local Fraternal Order of Police has been fighting since 2012 to negotiate a nonresidency clause.