Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Let's Now Argue about where Police can Live

Business Books Guy

by Bram Reichbaum

Councilman Ricky Burgess is proposing a ballot initiative for the next election to determine whether City police officers must continue to be barred from living elsewhere than the City proper.

"The community I represent ... they are frightened and disturbed that the police officers that patrol their streets have no personal interest in the city that they protect," he said. "They won't live, play ... and worship in the city." (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

Probably not coincidentally, the P-G was prepared with an editorial already.

Asking workers to support their employers by being taxpaying citizens is not unduly burdensome. In addition, living in a community can better prepare officers -- in fact, all city workers -- for their jobs, because they are bound to be more informed about what's going on at a grassroots level and more connected to their fellow Pittsburghers by virtue of being members of the populace. (Edit Board)

Here is the thing:

Even today under a residency requirement, is there even the slightest assumption in Rev's community and those like it that the white officers from Banksville are personally knowledgeable of and invested in the black residents in Homewood?

Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess said Tuesday he's worried that relations between police and the city's poorest communities are at crisis level.

“On both sides you're going to see violence,” he said. “Both sides are armed. The disconnect that causes trauma on both sides is at the boiling point. We have to get both sides to change these attitudes."

Burgess pointed to two “false narratives” causing problems: that officers believe people hate them and are complicit in criminal activity, while residents think officers hate them, disrespect them and are out to convict them of crimes.

“If we do not address this, this is a train wreck heading for our city,” Burgess said. “You're looking at a bomb ready to explode.” (Trib, Margaret Harding)

I agree, it's scary right now. We have a lot of work to do.

Not only is there work to be done staffing the Police Bureau's leadership, but reforming all manner of administrative, policing, training and oversight policies. Plus work making sure the community is meaningfully engaged and appraised of progress or lack thereof. That's all huge, and sensitive, and will require a lot of public attention and energy.

Difficult to imagine how launching what will be a long, clamorous, narrowly-focused and polarizing public argument about the employee residency requirement at the very start of that work will foster a good atmosphere for it.

Mark Niquette, Bloomberg
Furthermore, a ton of what the City needs to reform can only be won at the bargaining table with the FOP. I cannot imagine the City possesses a better potential bargaining chip than the residency requirement for things like restrictions and clarifications on off-duty details and powers, or on recording incident reports in certain ways.

Besides, waiving that requirement might have positive effects as well. If officers can live elsewhere than in the City, perhaps we will be able to draw from a broader pool of applicants, and broader can mean more diverse. We may make ourselves more attractive to African-American candidates at all levels of experience, from across the country, if we're not telling them where to live with their families after hours.

So there are a lot of reasons to work and worry over many other things at the Police Bureau. But then again, maybe we're in the mood to wage a campaign at the ballot box instead. Maybe the most recent one wasn't perfectly adequate.


  1. I am something of a cynic and sadly this tendency is encouraged whenever Burgess starts to speak. His recent 'mistaken' introduction of changes to the domestic violence policy in which he was the sole author - or maybe someone else wrote it after all - speaks to the reasons for adopting such an attitude.

    In any case, the cynic in me says that all he is doing is trying to hamstring Peduto. He knows that this will be THE bargaining chip used to institute real reforms against the objections of the FOP. As such he can ensure that Peduto never gets to play that piece and so his efforts at reform will be lackluster. You would think that he would support efforts at reform and would welcome the like-minded Peduto in achieving that. The thing is it is very hard to tell who Burgess is playing for. He likes to play the thorn in the side of the bureau when it suits him - but too often he seems far willing to do the FOP's bidding as well to the detriment of the causes that he is most vocal about. Again, the cynic in me says that this is just how Ricky plays politics and there is very little real concern for reform.

    1. Yes. Though as Vannevar just mentioned, we shouldn't necessarily have to "wait" on everything. It's obvious this great nexus of issues is coming, so if the introduction of the bill gets that discourse going, all for the good.

  2. What issues that need changed are bargained in the contract? I had thought most of the changes were internal policy, which didn't require negotiation/ arbitration.

    1. A good question to ask. My impression is there are many but that attorneys differ on some of them. I seem to recall that the recording & disclosure of certain kinds of incident data may be an example. Some have claimed that original aspects of the PIRC were another.

    2. You need a strong leader with thick skin to make those changes without going through arbitration/negotiation.

      The negotiation/arbitration decisions gives the current weak leaders a rack to hang the hat of blame on whether it is with the officers or with the citizens.

      haven't had a tough but fair personnel leader since Mayor O'Connor decided to move the Bureau "in another direction" and he fired Robert McNeilly.

  3. Anon 12:20PM -

    Perhaps you might consider putting naked cynicism aside and more fully educate yourself on the complexity of the issue here.

    Then, perhaps, you would better understand what exactly is at stake here, and why an action was necessary, and in fact, demanded.

    1. Would the councilman also put a referendum on the table to reduce the size of council which people have been asking for since the 2003 police layoffs?

      The population has more than halved in the City but we still have an oversized council.

      Let's let citizens have input into that also.

      He can show true leadership.

    2. Mr Carter is starting to acquire his boss's dismissive attitude and failure to fully grasp the facts.

      He is partly right that an action *maybe* necessary, but that does nothing to deflect criticism from Burgess.

      In the first place, no call for a referendum specifically was 'demanded'. Indeed, even the idea that a pending decision by the arbiter is itself impetus enough for action is hard to swallow.

      All that we are left with then is a possible need for some action to be taken - a point which will be moot if the arbiter sides with the city or an appeal to a judge overrules a finding against the city. And if action is then needed, lets leave it in the hands of the person who just won the election by promising police reform and has publicly said that the residency requirement is on the table in those negotiations. Why allow voters the possibility of denying Peduto his bargaining chip? What possible good is served by putting that in the hands of the voters that couldn't be achieved through more traditional means?

      The more I follow Burgess's office the more I see hamfisted attempts at playing politics when it is principles that should be in play. Calls go unanswered and unrerturned from that office. The Reverend is supercilious and dismissive and expects respect that he doesn't deign to return. My original remarks were at least qualified by my admission of cynicism, if that is a gift you are unwilling to accept let me put it in clearer terms. A clear eyed and objective assessment of that office suggests politics comes first, and contempt for outside ideas is the order of the day.

  4. In re: a recent police abuse case, for some folks, it's always something ...

  5. Does not the Rev. Ricky have 3 full time jobs?
    He puts it out there and then smuggly, snarly say's "I am all about everyone, all the time"
    I hope Bill Peduto crushes him like a bug!

  6. I haven't seen any statistics as yet.
    How many police live outside the city? 100%? 50%? 10%

    What exactly are we talking about? At what point do we have "too many" cops living elsewhere? Bearing in mind that in life nothing is 0% or 100%.

  7. I have never seen more of a snarky shill for Peduto than this post. Is the Peduto camp already using the Ravenstahl playbook to blame everything that anyone does who isn't on their team as interfering? Is everything that anyone does that isn't on the team bad and therefore the Peduto team must take the opposite position? Since when did anyone in the progressive camp ever think it was a good idea for cops to live outside the City until now?

    1. Surely you have seen shills more snarky than this.

  8. Bram,

    The problem, as I see it, is no one here in your comments section has actually taken the matter up on its merit.

    For those who disagree with what Reverend Burgess is attempting, I think you would find him open to suggestion, as long as that suggestion isn't grounded in "Well, let's just wait and see..."

    If there is a better immediate alternative, please feel free to view this as an opportune moment to share.

    Anon 12:20 and presumably also 3:30:

    Your remarks *might* be considered qualified by your declaration of cynicism, but mine are qualified by the fact that I chose to attach my identity to mine.

    If there is a better short-term option, then you should either a.) Put it up for public discussion; or b.) Execute said better option.

    To suggest that Rev should just sit back and whistle a happy tune while major issues, issues of major import for the people he represents play out around him simply because you dislike the Reverend or think he should go sit down somewhere is ridiculous.

    So, again, I ask, what is your idea?

    1. This is NOT the cynic responding.


      I appreciate the perspective of the councilman; but, the residency requirement is simply an antiquated concept. It has been declared unconstitutional when challenged in court.

      It almost strikes one as bad leftovers from the old company town days when your employer controlled where you lived, shopped and worshiped.

      If the legislation passes and then the referendum passes, it will surely lead Pittsburgh down a long and costly legal road which I think they will ultimately lose. The City will probably end paying not only their own cost; but, also the costs of the union when it challenged in court.

      You did fail to address the issue of reducing council by a referendum. This is an issue that all constituents of all council members have been asking for a voice on; but, your boss and all council members fail to act on it and by doing so quash the voice of the people.

      If we are going to open the ballot for the people to have a voice, lets do it for all the issues that they ask for.

    2. It has been declared unconstitutional when challenged in court.

      Could you please provide a link? I googled a fair bit and found nothing like that for civil service jobs. The closest I saw was an Ohio case where they ruled that the state could make a law against residency requirements. That very difference from ruling the residency requirements are unconstitutional.

    3. MH - I stand corrected.

      From the national FOP:


      Clearly states that the courts have found in favor of residency requirements and outlines the criteria in which residency can be used.

      Apologies to Shawn.

  9. The bigger question is 'why a referendum?' but we can get to that in a moment. For now let me address the request for more meaningful proposals for reforming community police relations.

    Here is a selection of reforms that make more sense to me than going after the residency requirement.

    Give teeth to the CPRB. Make the CPRB a true investigative agency so that it can see unredacted copies of internal bureau documents. Further make the recommendations of board binding on the bureau. If the chief disagrees with those findings force him to publicly appeal the case to council or a judge.

    Create a referendum that makes marijuana possession the lowest priority for the bureau and treats simple possession as a mere infraction. Further require that stop and frisk is only warranted for misdemeanors and more serious crimes. Massachusetts has already done this to great effect. One of the primary pretexts for stop and frisk and other bullying interactions - "I smelled pot" -would then be undercut.

    Work with the incoming administration and FOP to craft a set of internal policies and legislative items that will govern the bureau going forward. I am willing to wager that Burgess's district would be quite willing to accept out of town police if each was equipped with a wearable video camera that uploaded its feed to a server accessible by the DA and CPRB. In this way then the residency requirement gets real debate started on what we want the bureau to look like, instead of the issue becoming a distraction from the real work of reform by being the sole issue surrounding the Nov election.

    And I have a few more proposals up my sleeve if you want to get into those but that should do for now.

    Lets turn to the real issue - why a referendum?
    I can see no good reason for one.

    In the first place if a judge rules the residency requirement unconstitutional its method of passage won't be an issue. (This fact seems to elude many on council as evidenced by the push to make Doug Shields terrible written antifracking legislation a part of the city charter in the hopes that this would insulate it against further challenge.) So if you want some method of overruling a judge, you won't get it through this tactic. Perhaps a referendum would impress the arbiters but by the time the thing passes or not that decision will have already been made.

    Second, a referendum threatens to give away the house without getting anything in return. It is possible for voters to decide that there need not be a residency requirement and so one important piece in the collective bargaining process will have been lost. Leaving it to the new mayor or working with him would be a superior option.

    Finally, the case for cynicism here specifically is justified. Burgess recently decided unilaterally that noises coming out of the arbitration process on domestic violence warranted a stealth rewrite of the policy and a duplicitous presentation to council. Not only did that result in him having his ass handed to him and Mr. Carter suffering withering attacks in the comments of the PG, it showed clearly how insular his thinking was and how contemptuous he was of other's suggestions. As such, I stand by my comments made previously. There is reason to be suspicious of his thinking and to wonder why what he wants cannot be accomplished using more traditional means.

    1. The CPRB seems to be neutered in some ways by state law no matter how we design it. We can shame the Bureau more often by taking the CPRB's demands before a judge, but those futile attempts can get taxing on a City.

      I spoke with Rev very briefly yesterday. He explained the animus behind the legislation as challenging the culture of entitlement among officers, the culture of feeling more special than everyone. I agree with that as an aim, but we disagree on how this tactic is supposed to effectually address that. New and ideal leadership might make a dent, leadership that is willing to enforce new administrative / legislative policies, as you say.

  10. Bram,

    I wouldn't describe this as "animus". The proper word is "impetus".

    1. You would know better. My term, though properly utilized, may indeed be imprecise.

  11. I guess we should conclude that Mr Carter can't respond to the substance of these points?

    I will note that they are nicely echoed by Lucille Prater-Holliday over at Homewood Nation.

    A consensus seems to be emerging.....

  12. Forgot the link...


  13. Bram,

    This may be an adversarial entanglement, but there is no animus on the Reverend's end of it.

    I don't believe there is any animus on the part of the FOP (excepting for perhaps their animus with being required to reside in the municipality whose taxpaying residents pay their salaries.)

    As with any conflict, there are adverse interests involved.

    We'll have to see how this plays out.

  14. Anonymous (whichever one of you at this point - LOL):

    As Bram pointed out, trying to give more power to the CPRB (which Reverend does NOT disagree with, btw...) is an even stickier wicket.

    As for the residency requirement...

    Residency requirements ARE constitutional, so long as they bear a rational relation to a legitimate City interest, as conceded by one anonymous commenter already in this space, so we need not revisit that portion of the discussion.

    As for the comments on Homewood Nation, those will be afforded the attention they deserve in the appropriate forum.

    As for the vision of using residency as a bargaining chip, I think it should be clear to anyone watching that the FOP is making a concerted effort to eliminate that possibility.

    They have no desire to "bargain for it" in the course of their "normal" contract negotiation, which should be clearly evidenced by the fact that they chose to do this NOW, nearly a full year before the negotiations for their next CBA can even legally commence.

    So even if there exists a logical argument that sweeping changes could be made in the Bureau in exchange for allowing a third of the City's workforce to hit the exits with their paychecks in hand, which I am inclined to agree with in principle, we must deal with the "here and now".

    Right here, right now, action is required by those who wish either to preserve residency as an absolute and/or by those who wish to preserve the choice long enough to barter it.

    We must still be in possession of the right to make the choice a year from now if we are to effectively use it as a negotiating ploy.

    Sitting and waiting will effectively leave this issue to the whim(s) of the arbitrators.

    Almost no one who disagrees with the Reverend, in this space, has articulated the possible benefit(s), if any exist, of doing nothing and leaving the issue to chance.

    Leaving an issue like this to chance is irresponsible.

    Now we can fight over how to use any leverage we preserve or obtain, and I assume that we shall, but this "emerging consensus" that was alluded to, if I read it correctly, borders on, "leave it to the next Mayor."

    How will that work out, exactly, if the arbitrators and the Court(s) rule in favor of the FOP?

    That would effectively moot the ENTIRE issue, both the Reverend's argument AND ANY counterargument, at least the counterarguments alluded to in this space.

    And although neither the Reverend nor myself has stated that the Reverend's actions will meet with success, Reverend has yet to see anyone else propose or step forward with any plans or actions... AT ALL, with respect to the immediacy of the issue at hand and the timeframes involved.

    So again, as I have stated, if there are better, more practical, potentially more effective avenues to pursue in the immediate short-term, please feel free to state them.

    But if Reverend fails, it will NOT be for lack of action. It will be because it is determined that nothing he could have done could have changed the outcome of these events.

    1. Can't the City just pass an ordinance? That way it's very easy to both pass and repeal, and its existence doesn't make a dramatic statement of values for all time.

  15. Bram's point is correct here and has the advantage of not hamstringing the incoming administration.

    I will add one more in favor of doing nothing.

    On what basis could a judge rule against the residency requirement if it need only pass a 'rational basis' test to be constitutional? This is such a low bar that any number of reasons would give it legitimacy. Further, unlike the domestic violence requirements, this requirement is extended to all city workers. This at least forstalls one avenue to arbitration finding against it.

    The other point about the FOP's tactics is also unsound, I think. You write

    "They have no desire to "bargain for it" in the course of their "normal" contract negotiation, which should be clearly evidenced by the fact that they chose to do this NOW, nearly a full year before the negotiations for their next CBA can even legally commence."

    But this seems wrong. The fact that they are pursuing it through this channel shows that they are interested in the issue and willing to dedicate resources and time to it. As such, it will surely be a live issue during negotiations if the legalistic tactics to do not tilt in the FOP's favor.

  16. Anonymous:

    What makes you so certain that the arbitrators will rule in favor of the City in the first place?

    Your primary argument against the referendum appears to be grounded in an almost near-certainty that the City will prevail before the three-arbitrator panel, and then the subsequent passage of the referendum will tie the next Mayor's hands.

    I'm curious as to what this position is based upon. Certainly it isn't the City's (or any other municipality in Pennsylvania)history in prevailing with respect to the FOP in arbitration.

    But to your point about bargaining:

    The FOP and the City are not currently in "contract negotiation." This is a "single issue" interest arbitration.

    So there is no negotiating going on in this process.

    And if the FOP prevails, then the City is screwed anyway, so I really don't get your point here.

    So, like I said, if the FOP wanted to "bargain" over the issue of residency, they could have waited until we had a new Mayor.

    But they pulled this trigger now, before we could even swear in a new Mayor, not because they believed that Peduto would not honor his statements about bargaining over the issue, but rather because they are not prepared to give Peduto (or any Mayor) what they would undoubtedly want in exchange for giving away the bright, shiny object.

    And no one, at this point, can say with any certainty what the outcome of arbitration will be.

    So, short of a REALLY good theory on why the City will win the arbitration, I still don't get your fears here.

    1. I know the arbitration process is rigged in favor of the FOP, so I don't think they will certainly prevail there. But I do think there is some reason to think they might. After all, arbiters do need grounds for denying the city's claims and at least two avenues for doing so appear closed off i.e. claiming the requirement is 'special' to the bureau and so discriminatory or claiming that the policy itself is unconstitutional.

      But even if arbitration does fail, it does seem that the city would have a good case on appeal to a judge. Since an appeal puts a halt to the judgment of the arbiters until a judge can hear the case, a win for the FOP in arbitration wouldn't be a real win at all if an appeal was filed immediately.

      And I will say this too, Bram's point still stands. Doing this legislatively instead of by referendum looks like a more flexible option that still accomplishes the same results. As such I favor it over a referendum.

      Want to *really* break the culture of entitlement in our bureau? Give the city a referendum on making a wearable, constantly recording video camera part of every officer's equipment. I for one would welcome shackling our overlords to the same surveillance infrastructure that they have deployed against the citizenry for the better part of the last 20 years and I know many many more would welcome it too.

  17. What a bunch of freaking hypocrites. Now that their guy is in the Mayor's seat, everything is all about "don't hamstring the administration." How about letting the people decide? When did that go out of favor with progressives? Oh yeah, it went out of favor as soon as they captured the Mayor's office. What a joke.

    1. I wrote several very specific reasons that residency isn't the policing issue to isolate under the klieg lights right now, but if you'd rather ignore all of it and get right to the populist grandstanding... some would say that's the whole point.

      Just out of curiosity, could we put a total ban on tazers on the ballot? How about a moratorium on making debt payments?

    2. But all of these issues are interconnected.

      Grandstanding, you say? A large component of the systemic problem is that, for years, decades perhaps, these issues are only ever dealt with in isolation.

      If these more recent controversies lead us to a point where these isolated issues are all dealt with systemically moving forward, then some good will come of it regardless of the short-term outcomes...

  18. Tasers, yes. There is no superceding state or federal law requiring the use of tasers. Plenty of superceding laws about paying debt. Not to mention that most of our debt is contractual, aside from state and federal statutory obligations which can only be ameliorated by a Court.

  19. What about reducing the size of our bloated council? No superseding laws there.

  20. I suppose one could reduce the size of Council. Might want to keep an eye on retrogression, however.

    1. Sometimes passing from a more complex to a simpler structure is a good thing. The referendum could be written such that Pittsburgh would be represented by a councilperson per ##### (set number of citizens) never to go below # (set minimum number of council persons, I would suggest 7) and can never be an even number (to prevent ties in council votes).

      That way the size of council could always grow as the size of our population grows.

    2. I don't think there's any civic problem over the size of Council. This is like when 5 on Council went after take-home cars, and Motznik responded by cutting Council's staff budgets as punishment.

  21. But any reduction in the number of Council districts is more than likely going to result in retrogression.

    That would not serve the public interest.

  22. Anonymous:

    I'm all for requiring officers to wear audio/video equipment at all times.

    As soon as the State Police approves the specific equipment, we should budget for and purchase the equipment for every officer in the Bureau, save for perhaps undercover officers.

  23. You know there is a PGH Police Officer by the name of Dave Blahut publicly threatening on FB to not respond to emergency calls if this referendum passes. Thoroughly disgusting and obviously an instance of just the attitude that is a problem in the Bureau.

    Grab a screen shot quick, it will be gone by morning.... I already did!

    The comment is from July 8th.