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Two Pittsburgh police officers founded the Fraternal Order of Police in 1915

A century ago, two police officers from Pittsburgh decided they wanted better working conditions. They would go on to form the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which continues to advocate for police officers across the country.

This weekend, the FOP National Conference will be back in the city where the organization began, something that happens every quarter century, according to National FOP President Chuck Canterbury.

“We have a bid system four years out where our delegates actually vote for what city in America we want to go to,” Canterbury said, “and every time it comes on one of the 25th anniversary dates, nobody has ever bid except Pittsburgh.”

He said the organization, now with 325,000 members, originally developed to fit the specific needs of police officers.

“Something had to happen,” Canterbury said, “but they didn’t want to join any of the traditional unions, because they knew law enforcement would be different and that they wouldn’t be able to strike, they wouldn’t be able to not show up for work.”

He said it was not uncommon for police officers to work seven days a week with no overtime or benefits a century ago.

Although working conditions have improved, there are still plenty of challenges the FOP faces – including distrust of police in many cities.

“What we’ve been trying to do, for several years, is to express to our communities that we are just one spoke in the wheel,” he said. “If you don’t have a holistic approach to helping in those impoverished neighborhoods, law enforcement is not the answer.”

Direct input from officers in the field is one way to search for solutions to these problems, because they are the ones working most closely with the people, according to Canterbury.

“Rank and file police officers are working the streets of our city, and they know what’s going on,” he said. “So we’ve been an advocate to change as well, and we’re hoping that as this century, the second century of our existence, goes along, that we’ll be able to continue to do that.”

The above segment was broadcast during Essential Pittsburgh on August 6, 2015