Will Pittsburgh Police Head for the Exits?

Legislation has passed both houses of the General Assembly that would permit Pittsburgh Police officers to bargain over the issue of a City residency requirement as a condition of employment. The bill amends a 1951 act that said "a person applying for appointment shall not be required to be a resident of the city at the time of application…The person shall, however, be required to become a bona fide resident of the city at the time of employment and city residency must be maintained for the entire period of employment".

The new language, if it becomes law, would state "A city of the second class may require a police officer to become a bona fide resident of the city as a condition of employment". This opens the door to the residency requirement becoming a subject of collective bargaining. According to published reports Pittsburgh-the only city of the second class in Pennsylvania-is the only municipality to have a residency requirement for police codified in state law. That’s not to say that cities and towns don’t require police to live within their borders, just that it is bargained in negotiations.

It is a subject that has come up time and again, with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Some feel that having police required to live in the municipality that employs them keeps them vested in the community while others feel police should be free to choose where they live and, if they have school age children, where they choose to send their children for educational purposes.

We wrote a report on residency requirements in 2001 which noted that as soon as the state erased residency requirements for teachers in Pittsburgh, the police union asked for the same. In recent years it was an issue in the 2007 mayoral election and the state attempted to change the requirement in 2010.

If the change becomes law, and the police win a removal of the requirement through contract negotiations, will other bargaining units follow suit? As of the most recent Civil Service Guide publication for the city (2010) the language for police appears as it does above, prior to the new amended language, and firefighters have to have been a City resident for at least one year prior to application for the job (established by state law) and non-uniformed employees have to establish City residency (governed by City ordinance).