Residency for our Baltimore City Police

Yesterday Dan Rodricks​ on Midday took a look at where police officers live and how it affects their lives, their communities, and their effectiveness as officers. I commend it to you: http://wypr.org/post/residency-requirements-police

I asked former Commissioner Batts about this at the June Southeast Police Community Relations Council meeting. His reply was that he didn’t care where officers live–he needed officers who were community-oriented and committed to the residents of their district, no matter their own residency. That’s certainly a good starting point… but it still doesn’t answer the question of whether having officers living in Baltimore would actually help them be more community-oriented, would help them better understand their communities, and would help them relate better to fellow citizens.

On the whole, the answer is yes. Residency in city communities helps to naturally develop interpersonal skills, cultural competency, and community knowledge which helps officers better serve our city. While the jobs are very different, and the situation much more nuanced with law enforcement officers, pastors, priests, imams, and rabbis are far more effective when they live in the community alongside their fellow believers and neighbors. Residency doesn’t make unskilled pastors or police officers magically better–but it does help make good pastors and officers into great ones.

I have friends on the city police force who live in our neighborhood and who are better officers for it. Our neighborhood is unquestionably better for their presence. I also know good officers who moved away from the city because they legitimately feared for their safety and that of their families when they encountered fellow neighbors already known to them from police work, in the course of their civilian lives & responsibilities. It’s not a healthy thing to go home at night or go out grocery shopping and still be ‘on the job’ because you never know who you will run into or who knows where you live.

The statistics/analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com has published at least twice in the last year on residency requirements, police department diversity as measured against their municipality, and police effectiveness (though that last one wasn’t addressed as strongly or with solid data). You can find them here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/most-baltimore-police-officers-live-outside-the-city/   and here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/reexamining-residency-requirements-for-police-officers/.

The main concerns were with maintaining high standards and diversity in recruitment while also encouraging a more community-oriented police department through municipal residency. These are not mutually exclusive goals. While a residency requirement for all officers  might negatively affect the qualifications and diversity of our police force, we have mechanisms short of requirements which can still encourage residency.

At the minimum, we already have two existing programs: the Baltimore City Employee Homeownership Program provides up to $3,750 loan for home purchases, forgivable over five years (http://www.baltimorehousing.org/homeownership_employee). While trickier to use, the Federal “Good Neighbor Next Door” program allows public safety employees to purchase HUD homes at 50% off list price in certain revitalization areas (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/housing/sfh/reo/goodn/gnndabot). We ought to expand the Baltimore City Homeownership Program so that it offers a higher financial incentive specifically for police officers–somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000 seems right. By comparison, Johns Hopkins offers Live Near Your Work benefits ranging from $5,000 to $36,000 for home purchases by their employees.

If residency is a primarily tool for creating a more effective and community-oriented police force, then we ought to dedicate appropriate funds to increase our residency rate. While it is a  tangible benefit to officers, we should view that expense primarily as an investment in a more community-oriented and culturally-competent police force.

In terms of a modified residency requirement, at least two possibilities present themselves. Some cities have considered requiring rookie officers to live in the city for a certain number of years as a way of grounding them in the community early in their careers. Such a requirement has too large of an impact on recruiting a capable and diverse police force.

However, residency could and should come into play for promotions and leadership. When officers apply for sergeant and lieutenant, residency should be one factor considered in distinguishing between candidates. Higher-level positions should come with an actual residency requirement. Those entrusted with command-level leadership need to be as integrated into our neighborhoods and connected to the broader life of the city as possible so that their decisions are rooted in a deep knowledge of and relationship with the lived experience of fellow citizens.

Residency is just one small but important piece in our desperate efforts to foster a more collaborative, mutually respectful, and effective relationship between citizens and our police force. Actual community-based policing strategies (out of cars, interacting with residents, working designated posts and walking assigned beats) are even more necessary–but the effectiveness of those necessary strategies is increased in conjunction with the benefits of officer residency.

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Residency for our Baltimore City Police

2 thoughts on “Residency for our Baltimore City Police

  1. Jeff Kunce says:

    BPD is always looking for recruits. Where else can a 21-year-old start out at $46K plus benefits? That’s one reason that some of our officers commute in from WV and PA. We have an unemployment problem in the city, right? Surely, there are young adults in the city who qualify. Maybe home-grown officers would be more likely to live here.

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    1. Jeff, I’d normally agree with you. But the 538 stats/analysis in the links I posted describe pretty significant impacts of complete residency restrictions on the racial diversity of municipal police departments. In Baltimore, the ability to recruit desperately-needed Spanish-speaking officers from other parts of the United States has been critical for working toward a more representative and responsive police force.

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