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June 17, 2013

Pittsburgh FOP's Opportunity to Respect Women and Change the Framework

The Pittsburgh FOP has for its membership bright, smart, caring, brave, strong people who care about the City and the People they have chosen to Serve and Protect. They've also got a few, a small minority, members who see their Pittsburgh badge as a ticket to personal power and lucrative outside employment.

This situation is exacerbated by the low wages the city has paid its protectors over the last decades. It's not a simple, single-factor story.

The outcome of these dynamics is that the Pittsburgh Police are being hired as mercenary rent-a-cops by businesses (bars mostly) that want security, and when they rent a Cop they buy the City's stature and standing. The instant the business owner doesn't like something, it just might become a crime in the eyes of the officer the business is paying for; the customer-citizen is screwed and the public is both liable and responsible.

In one of the recent changes at the police department, on March 13 2013, Acting police Chief Regina McDonald prohibited officers from working secondary employment at at least two strip clubs on the grounds that they are "location that may tend to bring the Bureau of Police into disrepute or may reduce the efficiency or usefulness of the officer as a member of the Bureau of Police." In other words, if it reflects poorly on the Police or the City, you shouldn't be doing it while wearing the uniform the city provides.

The FOP was shocked, shocked at this initiative and on the FOP's behalf one of the strip clubs went to court, seeking to force the city to permit police to work at the strip clubs. On June 17th, a federal judge ordered that police may work at the strip clubs while the litigation proceeds.

This is the moment when the FOP should look around, take a few breaths, and decide on their long-term interests. Tomorrow the FOP could send out a press release, something like this:

Times have changed since the first chapter of the FOP was formed in Pittsburgh in 1915. As we approach our 100th Anniversary, we wonder: what would Officers Martin Toole and Aaron Burns, the Pittsburgh officers who founded the national FOP, do today? How do we, in our time, show leadership in providing for both our communities and our members?

The City is changing. Society has changed. The police force has changed for the better. In both society and police work, the role of women and minorities has advanced considerably, and they are an essential part of our membership.

The Pittsburgh FOP should represent the best of Pittsburgh, and champion the advances that Pittsburgh is making. The recent mayoral primary election is a clear indication that we're not in 1955 Pittsburgh anymore, and that's a good thing.

Although the Federal Court has ruled that our members may work secondary details at strip clubs, we recognize that such assignments diminish Pittsburgh's Finest and disrespect the role of women in society. To have our members working security in strip clubs by night, and enforcing public law and policy in the daylight, is an unacceptable hypocrisy that disrespects our proud history.

While the court has said that we may work secondary details at strip clubs, the FOP has decided to eschew this outside activity. The FOP will not support any police officers working secondary assignments at these businesses.

When I look at our female officers who stand on the thin blue line every day, I can do no less. When I think of our wives and daughters, and the trouble some officers have had in domestic violence cases, we must set a new tone.

At the same time, I call on the incoming Administration to make it a first priority to fix this broken system where a Pittsburgh police officer needs to work secondary details to provide for their family. Nobody became a Pittsburgh police officer so they could be a bouncer in a strip club, but this is how the situation has developed. We hope to see concrete action within the first ninety days of the next administration - at which time we will review our position on this issue.

That might be a really smart thing for them to do.

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