PITTSBURGH, PA – Pittsburgh police argued on Monday they should have the right to live outside the city and said the city should offer an annual bonus for officers who choose to continue within its boundaries.
Attorneys for Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1 and the city were in court arguing whether an arbitration panel exceeded its authority this year in lifting a 102-year-old residency requirement for police officers. Pittsburgh is appealing the ruling.
“It’s not within the purview of the arbitrators to dictate these kinds of terms to a municipality,” Assistant Pittsburgh Solicitor Wendy Kobee argued in a hearing before Judge Robert Colville in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
Meanwhile, the FOP is seeking through contract negotiations an annual bonus equal to 5 percent of an officer’s salary for those living in Pittsburgh.
The request is part of a 25-point contract proposal the Tribune-Review obtained that seeks unspecified wage increases, two additional paid holidays — Easter and Heroes Day on Sept. 11 — and language requiring the city to offer FOP members the same economic benefits as city firefighters, who bargain separately.
The residency bonus would range from about $2,000 for a first-year officer to about $3,100 for a master police officer, according to the 2014 budget.
Officer Robert Swartzwelder, co-chairman of the FOP’s contract committee, said if the city loses its appeal on residency, officials should offer the extra money as an incentive to officers.
“We believe if you want our officers to remain in the city, you’re going to pay them additional money,” he said.
Mayor Bill Peduto’s office would not comment on the contract proposal.
The city is attempting to win an appeal of the March ruling by a three-member panel, which said officers can live within 25 air miles of Downtown.
Colville told attorneys after the hearing that he would need “a few days” to render a decision.
City voters in November overwhelmingly approved requiring police officers and all other city employees to live in the city, placing the requirement that had been part of city code since 1902 into the Home Rule Charter.
Kobee argued that Pittsburgh is bound by the charter and that the Legislature gave municipalities discretion to decide the issue.
However, FOP attorney Eric Stoltenberg said residency should be determined through collective bargaining and that the arbitration panel had authority to decide the issue.
He noted that the Legislature in 2012 amended a state law that required residency for city police officers to permit, but not require, the city to lift the requirement.
Language in the FOP contract permitted an arbitration hearing on the issue.
“When the Legislature took a statute that used to say, ‘Police officers shall live in the city,’ and changed it to, ‘Police officers may live within the city,’ that made it something the city could do and made it the mandatory subject of bargaining,” Stoltenberg said.