Police should dwell on benefit of city living

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This is not news, it's olds: A lot of cops, maybe most of them, don't like living in Pittsburgh.

That's been true for a very long time. For as long as I can remember, they've been trying to get out of the deal they made when they were recruited.

That deal is simple: We'll train you, hand you a gun and a badge, and pay you to drive around telling us what to do and not do. In return, you have to live in the city you've sworn to serve and protect, just like every other city employee.

The Fraternal Order of Police doesn't like that deal. The union is in contract arbitration to lift the residency requirement.

City Council unanimously approved a bill Tuesday, introduced by Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze, to have a November referendum on whether to write the residency requirement into the city's home rule charter. Mr. Burgess expects that referendum will pass, and I do, too, because, by definition, it will ask nothing of the police that the voters aren't doing themselves.

I also think that residency requirement will continue to ensure that we get and keep the best possible police force for Pittsburgh.

How can that be, you might ask, if trained officers leave because they don't like living in the city?

It's because at the point they can no longer abide living in Pittsburgh, that they can't wait to put their foot to the floor and take a parkway out of town, they're probably not going to be the best possible officers we can have in those positions. Some modicum of affection for the city and the law-abiding people in it should be a minimum standard for any officer.

I don't begrudge any officer who makes that decision to go, by the way. People should live where they want to live. If they and their families aren't comfortable here, they should go someplace they like with our best wishes. Get on with your life's work, as Steelers coach Chuck Noll put it.

That said, none of the arguments I've heard against the residency requirement are convincing. The police union points to the good pay in surrounding suburbs; a Monroeville officer can earn more than $100,000, without overtime, in the fifth year on the job.

OK, that leaves two questions: Why in the name of Barney Fife does Monroeville pay so much? What would a residency requirement do to keep a city police officer from moving to that job? If I were a cop, I'd take it.

There have been critiques of the city schools, and some of them aren't what they need to be, but there's a slew of choices there. My two daughters, for instance, are heading into ninth and 10th grades at CAPA, one of the best high schools in the region if not the state. When they graduate, both will be eligible for $40,000 in Pittsburgh Promise scholarship money if they attend a college in Pennsylvania.

That Promise money for city high school grads is a very big deal to someone earning a reporter's salary. The same would be true of a patrolman, no?

Pittsburgh is a small enough city that one person can make a difference, yet it's large enough to have 90 neighborhoods of uncommon variety. I enjoy so many of them that I've often thought the hard thing about Pittsburgh is that you can live in only one neighborhood at a time. So hearing that some of our officers don't like any of them, that the police union's fondest wish is to give its members the right to scram?

I'm unmoved.

Like most people, I don't like everything about Pittsburgh. Again, like most people, I do what I can to make it a better place. That's a reasonably concise description of what we pay police officers to do, too. So if they can't find any reason to stay, they should go.

Just don't ask me and my neighbors to keep paying your salary. We'll find recruits to take your places. Then everyone can be happy in their new homes.


Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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