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No consensus among Western Pennsylvania police departments on residency rules

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
 

Most large suburban police departments in Allegheny County require officers to reside in, or at least near, the boroughs and townships they serve, a survey from the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy found.

The institute received information from 14 municipalities with populations of 15,000 or more. Nine of them either require officers to live in the municipality or a specified geographic area.

“What the reasoning is, I have no idea,” said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 91 President Henry Wiehagen, a retired North Braddock police officer whose union represents about 2,000 active and retired officers in suburban departments. “It doesn't impair their performance at all.”

Supporters of residency requirements contend that officers have more of a stake in a community where they live, but opponents say such requirements are antiquated and officers care about the people they serve regardless of where they live.

A three-member arbitration panel in March ruled that Pittsburgh police officers can live within 25 air miles of Downtown. Pittsburgh voters in November approved requiring police officers and all other city employees to live in the city, putting the requirement that had been part of city code since 1902 into the Home Rule Charter.

The city appealed the arbitration ruling and is awaiting a decision from Judge Robert Colville in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

Wiehagen said he doesn't think the case will have an impact on suburban departments. He said many small departments don't have residency requirements. Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said officers there have to live within five nautical miles — about 5.75 miles — of the border, but the municipality began enforcing the rule outlined in the police union's contract only a few years ago. Three officers resigned as a result.

Moon Township requires officers to live within 10 air miles of the chief's office, which allows officers to reside in Beaver County.

“It seems to be quite a bit of freedom,” Chief Leo McCarthy said. “It dramatically opens up the pool of candidates we can get.”

McCarthy said the majority of his officers live in Moon, but he hasn't had any problems with those who don't.

“Honestly, I don't see any difference in anybody's performance,” McCarthy said

Moon Patrol Officer Frank Starko said he chose to live within the township because it offered the amenities important to most officers — a good school district, affordable housing and recreational opportunities.

“If you want guys to live where they work, you should provide them the things they're entitled to,” Starko said.

Baldwin Borough police Chief Michael Scott spent 23 years working as a Pittsburgh police officer before taking the job with Baldwin, which has no residency requirement. He said all but one person on his 25-member force live outside the borough.

“The officers take it very personally if there's a crime occurring in an area they patrol,” Scott said. “They want to catch that person. They don't care if they live there or not.”

Monroeville requires officers to live within its boundaries. Chief Doug Cole said officers have six months to move in once the new-hire probationary period ends. One officer refused to move and was fired, Cole said.

“There are benefits to having them live here,” Cole said. “They're part of the community. It helps us with our community-oriented policing philosophy. They have a stake in what's happening in the town.”

McKeesport and Shaler also require officers to live within their borders.

“The thought process behind it is the police are an integral part of the community,” said David Shutter, president of the Shaler commissioners. “Our thought is if they live in the community, they will be closer to the people here … and they'll be better known in uniform as a friend and neighbor.”

Wiehagen said officers need to get out of their patrol cars and interact with people more often, but that doesn't mean they have to live in the neighborhood they patrol, he said.

“You're a part of (the community) anyway if you're there for eight hours,” Wiehagen said. “I don't have to live in the county jail if I'm a jail guard.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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