Pittsburgh will challenge ruling that allows police officers to live outside the city

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The city of Pittsburgh Tuesday appealed an arbitration award that would allow the city's rank-and-file police officers to live up to 25 miles outside city limits, lifting a longtime requirement that applies to all other city employees.

The appeal to Common Pleas Court puts the arbitration award on hold, meaning the residency requirement will apply to police officers, at least for the time being.

Last week, a panel of arbitrators ruled to lift the residency requirements for police officers represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, allowing them to move anywhere within 25 "air miles" of the city. Per state law, the panel included a neutral arbitrator, an arbitrator chosen by the FOP and a third arbitrator picked by the city. John Skonier, the neutral arbitrator, authored the award and signed it, along with Bryan Campbell, representing the FOP. The city's arbitrator, Joseph Quinn, declined to sign the award and instead wrote a dissent.

"With so much excitement about our city from residents, the nation and the world, I can't imagine why police would want to leave it," Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement. "I am eager to sit at the bargaining table and negotiate in a fair and open process."

Mr. Campbell could not be reached for comment.

All city workers are required to live within city limits, but in 2012, a change in state law that applied only to Pittsburgh opened the door for the police union to challenge the requirement. The matter went to arbitration in mid-2013, meaning a panel of three arbitrators decided the matter.

In response, Councilman Ricky Burgess put on the November ballot a referendum to make the residency requirement a part of the home rule charter. It passed overwhelmingly, though it's still unclear whether the referendum will supersede the arbitration ruling. That's one issue that may be parsed out by the court.

Mr. Peduto has taken a more nuanced position. He said he understands why residents want their police to live in the city, but he's wiling to give up the requirement if he can negotiate better accountability measures for officers and changes to practices in recruitment and promotion.

"I've long said I would make residency part of contract negotiations with the police union in exchange for changes to management and disciplinary improvements that both residents and officers can be proud of," he wrote.

"Changes are also necessary to increase diversity within the bureau to make it better reflect the makeup of Pittsburgh's residents."

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published March 18, 2014 4:28 PM

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