Pa. Supreme Court considers if Pittsburgh police should be required to live in city limits

Pittsburgh policepatch

Pittsburgh police officers don’t have to live in the city to keep residents safe and state law gives them a right to move out, an attorney for the police union argued Tuesday.

An attorney for the city countered that voters in 2013 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to Pittsburgh’s Home Rule Charter, bolstering an ages-old ordinance that requires all employees, including police, to live within city boundaries.

The FOP and city have battled since 2014 over the city’s residency requirement in a case that has bounced from an arbitration panel to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas to Commonwealth Court and now the state Supreme Court.

It’s in the hands of seven justices with no timetable for deciding the issue.

“I’ve had cases that were decided very quickly, and then I’ve had some that took a year,” said Eric Stoltenberg, attorney for Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.

Tuesday’s arguments centered on a 2012 change in state law that permitted, but did not require, cities to lift residency requirements. Pittsburgh since 1902 has required all employees to live in the city.

Residents in 2013 voted to make it a permanent part of the city’s Home Rule Charter.

Arbitrators subsequently decided that Pittsburgh officers could live up to 25 air miles from the City-County Building, Downtown, and an Allegheny County judge upheld the panel’s decision. Commonwealth Court later overturned Common Pleas Judge Robert J. Colville’s ruling.

The FOP appealed to the state Supreme Court.

FOP President Robert Swartzwelder said “100 percent” of officers continue to live in the city “or they’d be fired.”

Pittsburgh has terminated employees for violating the requirement. Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, was unsure whether anyone has been fired in 2016. In 2014, Cosette M. Grant-Overton, the education and workforce development manager, resigned under pressure after the city discovered her living outside city limits.

Officers fear juveniles they arrest could retaliate against their children who attend city schools and contend the schools are void of programs that suburban districts offer.

Stoltenberg argued that residency is a “workplace condition” and subject to collective bargaining, in which issues are determined at times through arbitration. He said the 2012 law permitted the FOP to negotiate the issue, and it supersedes the Home Rule Charter amendment.

“These are professional police officers,” he said. “They don’t have to live here in order to be professional, and that’s the case across Pennsylvania.”

Clifford Levine, an attorney representing the city, said the city has a right to impose the requirement and is following the 2012 law.

Both attorneys cited case law to support their positions.

“We feel very strongly that the electorate has spoken and should be defended,” Levine said. “We had direct authorization from the state Legislature to required the residency. We took them up on that, and we think it’s good policy.”

Bob Bauder is Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312