Why Does the Pittsburgh Police Residency Requirement Matter?

Jul 29, 2013

Commander Rashall Brackney of the Pittsburgh police speaks with protesters in the Hill District
Credit South / Pittsburgh for Trayvon

A group of Pittsburghers gathered in the Hill District two weeks ago to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman and to show their disdain for the American legal system. Commander Rashall Brackney was one of the officers who patrolled the demonstration.  The protestors spoke with Brackney throughout the evening, and it became evident that she had personal connections with many of the men and women sitting in the street.  She negotiated with the group on many issues and the protest continued peacefully. 

City Paper Editor Chris Potter wrote in his op-ed “Hitting Home,” that “her ties clearly helped defuse tensions on Centre Avenue that night.”

Brackney is a resident of the city of Pittsburgh and Potter points to this fact as an important element of the peaceful demonstration that night.  She had connections in the community in which she lived and therefore was able to deal with a potentially tumultuous situation in a calm manner.  But the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in the city of Pittsburgh says that lifting the standing residency requirement for officers would make recruitment and retention easier, but many taxpayers feel differently.

“The neighborhoods they chose not to live in tend to be the neighborhoods that require the most police presence,” Potter adds, noting that many community members are becoming frustrated that their taxpayer dollars are paying police officers that have little to no ties with the residents of the city in which they “protect-and-serve.”  Residents typically feel safer when they know there is a police officer living nearby.

Potter suggests that perhaps the residency law is not more important than other FOP improvements such as training, but is still a pressing issue among community leaders. Councilman Ricky Burgess wants the residency law on the November ballot, but Potter adds that even if it did get into the Home Rule Charter, the city could still waive the requirement at any time.