Home Is Where Your Paycheck Is

Police are balking at rules requiring them to live in the cities where they work

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

AFTER a long day of chasing criminals and investigating murders in Kansas City, Mo., police officer John Bryant would like to leave the urban area he patrols for a more rural community 30 or 40 miles away. But, like many police officers nationwide, Mr. Bryant risks losing his job if he moves outside the city limits.

''It would be nice to live in a smaller community where you could send your kids to better schools and not worry about their safety,'' Bryant says.

Convinced that having police live in the neighborhoods they serve makes for better community relations -- and a more secure economic base -- cities have long imposed ''residency requirements'' on cops. But police nationwide are bristling at new efforts to enforce these policies.

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Connection to community

City residents often want their police force to have a connection to, and investment in, the community. Urban taxpayers disapprove of suburban commuters coming in to patrol their streets and then retreating to the tranquillity of suburbia to buy homes and raise families.

''Many of the largest cities have had residency requirements forever,'' says Patrick Murphy, a former police commissioner in New York, Washington, and Detroit.

''The idea is that if you're getting a city paycheck, then you agree to live in the city and spend your money there,'' says Lana Stein, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

''The mentality of going into the jungle or the war zone every day but retreating to God's country after eight hours doesn't make much sense,'' Mr. Murphy says. ''The concept of policing that was begun 150 years ago in London was based on the idea that police should come from the community.''

But as America's urban areas have deteriorated, many police officers' unions have challenged the mandates. Officers often complain about poor public-school systems and the lack of housing options in their price range.

''It's bad enough that you have to put up with the environment at work, but then you have to worry about it for your family,'' says Sgt. Jim Wurm, president of the St. Louis Police Fraternal Order.

Policies hard to impose

In St. Louis, the police officers' union wants the requirement relaxed so that officers with a decade of experience on the force can choose whether they want to continue living in the city or not. Yet in a nonbinding referendum earlier this month, St. Louis voters showed a 2-to-1 preference for maintaining the residency requirement that was adopted in 1975.

In other cities, new and old residency requirements are proving difficult to enforce. ''There's always the problem of people giving their sister's residence when they actually live in the suburbs,'' Murphy says. ''That goes on all the time. Some cities don't pay much attention to it. Others check on their officers every now and then.''

Baltimore enacted a residency requirement for all city employees hired after September 1993 and gave workers one year to move inside the city limits. But last May, the police commissioner waived the requirement for police officers after 240 of the city's 3,200 officers threatened to quit.

Boston has had a residency requirement for some city employees since 1976. The mandate was extended to newly hired police and firefighters last year. But the city only recently began enforcing the regulation. The police and firefighters unions have filed suit, seeking to reverse the policy.

Butthe courts have generally upheld residency rules. And most efforts to overturn these mandates at the ballot box have failed. Police officers in Joliet, Ill., narrowly failed in their bid to overturn a residency requirement by referendum last year.

Some cities have converted residency requirements into an incentive system.

In St. Paul, Minn., for example, officers who reside in the city receive extra points in competition for promotions.

New Orleans adopted a policy barring promotions for city employees living outside Orleans Parish. But earlier this month, a federal judge struck down the policy. The city will appeal the decision.

Some critics argue that bickering over where police officers live detracts from the force's top priority: ''I think the city should let it go and get on with the business of fighting crime,'' says New Orleans Councilwoman Peggy Wilson.

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