A demonstrator stands in front of a line of police officers lined up a block from the Public Safety Building in Rochester, N.Y., Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, after a rally and march protesting the death.
( AP Photo/Adrian Kraus
Tanzina Vega: In the months following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, calls for police reform are reviving a long and contentious debate over whether or not police officers should live in the communities where they work. This week in Louisville, Kentucky, the city settled a wrongful death suit for $12 million with the family of Breonna Taylor after months of protests demanding justice.
The settlement outlined a series of police reforms, including a housing credit program to incentivize police officers to live in certain areas of the city. In Rochester, New York, following the police killing of Daniel Prude, Mayor Lovely Warren recently announced a proposal that would require new police officers to live within the city's limits.
Mayor Lovely Warren: Having our police officers live in the community that they protect and serve will build relationships and strengthen our neighborhoods. I think that you also get a chance to get to know your neighbors when you live next to them. You're outside cutting grass. You're talking to each other and that's very important.
Tanzina: I'm Tanzina Vega. Today on The Takeaway, we explore whether requiring officers to live where they work can lead to meaningful change. For more on this, I'm joined by Marq Claxton, retired NYPD detective and director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance. Marq, welcome back to the show.
Marq Claxton: Thanks for having me on.
Tanzina: Also, with us is Grace Hauck, breaking news reporter at USA Today. Grace, thanks for being with me.
Grace Hauck: Thanks for having me on.
Tanzina: Grace, why are we hearing a lot more renewed attention on these residency requirements?
Grace: I think it's a kind of police reform that people can get their heads around. Many cities are starting to think about adding this to a whole host of new police reforms. As you mentioned at the top, this is not something that is new. This is a discussion we've been having for more than a century now. As the mayor mentioned in that clip, the idea is that if you live and work in a community, you'll be more likely to have cultural competency to understand that neighborhood and you'll be more invested in it to have a stake in that community. You'll be more likely to reflect the demographic composition of that neighborhood.
You may have a more diverse police department. The idea is that it's trying to improve police-community relations. Throughout history, there have also been some economic incentives for having these requirements. It's partly a move on the part of cities to try and retain some officers who were taking part in white flight, fleeing out to the suburbs, and also a public coffer theory. The idea is that the cities were having high rates of unemployment. They were in financial crisis. By implementing these policies, you were keeping the salaries that you were paying to civil servants in this local economy and you're also retaining that tax base.
Tanzina: Marq, this has been an issue that recently here in New York City, in fact, has taken hold. The mayor of New York, Mayor de Blasio, was recently really put to task, if you will, to have to release data on where New York's NYPD officers live. You've been in the NYPD. About half of those officers right now live in the city of New York. How do you see it from having worked in there? Is it important for them to live in New York City or in the cities that they police?
Marq: I think I agree with the legendary rapper Rakim, who said, "It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at." In New York, I know the issue has been brought up for over 30, 40 years, maybe even longer than that. I know throughout my entire police career, there was discussion about the importance or relevance of residency because the police officers in New York are allowed to live within the five boroughs and contiguous counties.
I think that the police unions put up the most resistance to any stricter residency requirements. Part of the position that they've taken over the years is that their civil servant, their blue-collar police officers can't even afford to live in a geographical area of employment. The outer boroughs tends to give them a better opportunity for homeownership. More importantly, residency-- and the reason is coming up as of late is because of all of the reform ideas and the reform agenda that is traveling around the nation.
It's a comfortable, easy, some say lazy suggestion towards reform. I think most important in regards to police residency is the fact that police culture really subsumes all other culture. When you're a police officer, that tends to be the dominant culture is your police culture. There is no additional sensitivity based on your proximity. People have to be mindful of that if they're looking for the idealistic Joe Cop is not necessarily a residence requirement that gets Joe Cop next door to you, helping you cut your grass, et cetera.
There's a difficulty in obtaining a lot of conclusive data on the efficacy in reducing police abuse or criminality. It's hard to quantify whether or not there is an actual benefit to require residency. Finally, if you look at nationwide, there are areas of this nation where it is impractical to require residency. The best policies regarding police reform would require a nationwide institution. It's very difficult and challenging to really enforce or encourage the different jurisdictions across the nation to require a residency for their police officers.
Tanzina: Grace, one of the things to that point, I'm wondering, is there data that show that any of these residency requirements have an effect on improving community-police relations?
Grace: In reporting this story several weeks ago, I reached out to Eisinger and several of the other academics who were studying this during its resurgence in the seven days. They really can't point to any recent surveys or data that suggests that this does improve community relations. I've also reached out to various community members for their thoughts on this and I hear all sorts of opinions.
There really is no tangible evidence at this point. Marq was saying there are various ways to go get to Joe Cop. In 2015, the Department of Justice under President Obama released a report on 21st Century Policing. That report did not suggest a residency requirement. There was no evidence for that. What it said instead was a residency incentive program, so providing officers with housing and public housing neighborhoods as long as they are fulfilling their duties within that neighborhood.
It seems that the settlement we see in Louisville is trying to get at a similar idea, maybe not requiring officers to live in the city, providing incentives. The settlement also is encouraging officers to do community service in those neighborhoods. Again, to Marq's point, they're seeing that as the way to try and improve these community relations as opposed to necessarily forcing officers to live there.
Tanzina: Marq, when you hear about those types of financial incentives, what are your thoughts there? Because, frankly, and you know this is being a former NYPD officer, a lot of the folks that are being policed, particularly in Black and brown neighborhoods, we're talking about low-income communities generally. A lot of these cops are living in suburban communities and surrounding areas where there's also just an ideological disconnect. It seems that that tends to show up. Is incentivizing officers with tax breaks or credits to live closer to the people that they police worth it?
Marq: Well, first off, I think the ideological disconnect that we tend to see is based on what I mentioned previously, and that is police culture and how impactful police culture is. That can actually build into toxic police culture as against their mentality, which clearly would have impact on their ideological position. Secondly, I think it's an effective way to encourage police officers to conduct themselves differently, is to either do one or two things, incentivize or penalize.
There's no shift in police culture or dynamics or treatment or conduct or behavior without either, A, incentivizing or penalizing. That's the only thing that gets through. Negotiations don't work with police entities generally speaking. Once again, that's part of the dynamics of police culture. If you expect police officers to voluntarily engage in a program that requires residency, then you would have to incentivize it. If you are trying to keep them from living outside of the jurisdictions, then you have no choice but to enforce penalties against them.
Tanzina: Grace, given that, let's talk about that the communities themselves. Are communities that are policed, particularly those that are heavily policed, interested in this type of contact or connection with the officers? Do they care based on your reporting?
Grace: Yes, I think Minneapolis might be a good example here. In 2017, the city was thinking about taking up a residency requirement because just 8% of officers were living in the city that year. A local Twin Cities-based organization, Communities United Against Police Brutality, actually opposed it that year and said that, "We don't want this residency requirement. We don't see any evidence that this will help us."
Actually, to quote them, they said, "We've never encountered a shred of evidence that requiring or incentivizing police officers to live in the communities in which they work had any positive effect on the quality of policing." I've heard from some residents in Minneapolis as well as where I am here in Chicago who say, "I don't like the police. I don't want these officers in my neighborhood. That's going to be traumatic for me and that will cause stress and fear."
At the same time, there's a community organizer here on the South Side who told me a couple of weeks ago, "Yes, I would love to have an officer who's not just living in the city but living in my neighborhood, coming over for dinner." She said something along the lines of, "People who are neighbors aren't going to bash each other's heads in. You're going to be less likely to shoot a young man if he lives a few blocks down and you know his father." It's a debate at the very, very local level all the way up through the systemic city official and police union level as well.
Tanzina: Marq, given that this has been debated since the 19th century and we're obviously not going to solve it today, but I do want to ask you about how you achieve "community policing" with or without a residency requirement.
Marq: It definitely does matter and it improves responsiveness when there are well-established-- its personal relationships between the police and the community.
Tanzina: Marq Claxton is a retired NYPD detective and the director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance and Grace Hauck is a breaking news reporter at USA Today. Marq and Grace, thanks so much for joining me.
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