High-profile civil rights protests across the country have sparked a renewed interest in the idea of getting more police officers to live in the cities they serve.
In the Twin Cities, police live in the cities where they work less often than in most other large American cities. Only about 5.4 percent of Minneapolis officers live in city boundaries, according to data obtained by MPR News from the Minneapolis Police Department. About 22 percent of St. Paul officers live within city boundaries, according to the City Council. The national average for large cities is about 40 percent residency.
Supporters of hiring officers to work in the cities they live argue that it would bring officers closer to communities they serve and provide quicker response times. But opponents, including police unions, fought residency requirements in the past, saying that they limit the hiring pool and infringe on workers’ rights.
A bill has been proposed at the Legislature this session to lift a 1999 ban on residency requirements for police officers. And some Minnesota cities are exploring incentives to tempt officers to move into neighborhoods they police, rather than requiring them to live in the city.
Twin Cities have lower police residency rates than national average
Residency requirements in the Twin Cities ended after the passage of a 1999 ban at the Minnesota Capitol. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul trail most other large cities in the proportion of officers who live in city boundaries.
While numbers vary around the country depending on city, an analysis of census data from the 75 largest American cities by FiveThirtyEight found that about 40 percent of police officers live in the cities they police.
In Minneapolis, only about 5.4 percent, or 29 officers in the five precincts, live within Minneapolis city limits, according to data obtained by MPR News. About half that many MPD officers live in the Dakota County city of Farmington, which has an overall population about 20 times smaller than Minneapolis.
Top 5 places where MPD officers live
1) Minneapolis: 29 officers
2) St. Paul: 23 officers
3) Blaine: 19 officers
4) Brooklyn Park: 18 officers
5) Lakeville: 15 officers
The overall rate of residency for all city employees living in Minneapolis, excluding park board employees, is 28 percent, according to the city of Minneapolis.
Minneapolis City Council member and public safety committee chair Blong Yang said residency requirements have been discussed occasionally, but that he does not expect to see any movement in Minneapolis to reinstate them.
“We can certainly put incentives out there to help our police officers decide to make the decision to stay here in Minneapolis, but that would require some money as well,” Yang said.
Instead, Minneapolis officials are pinning their hopes for changing officers’ relationship with the community in the MPD 2.0 program, which he said can address some concerns residents have about police officers sometimes acting like an outside force.
“MPD 2.0 is about doing things differently and changing the dynamics and the conversation about how we have interactions with citizens,” Yang said. “Officers who live outside the city can do the same direct sort of engagement, we just have to change the model.”
St. Paul’s attempt to offer incentives
In St. Paul, where nearly a quarter of police officers live within the city limits, the City Council passed a resolution in February to offer incentives to police officers who choose to live in city limits. The resolution argued that police residency in the city “builds relationships and trust, gives the police officers an inside perspective of a neighborhood and adds a level of security to a neighborhood.”
The resolution’s co-author, Council Member Dai Thao, said he believes that police officers living on a block would have an immediate impact on crime.
“As a person of color and being in conversation with my constituents, this is a no brainer,” Thao said. “The bad folks, if they see a police car, I don’t think that’s where they want to do their activity.”
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman chose not to sign the resolution, although he said in a letter to the council on Feb. 17 that he agreed that St. Paul would be well served if more city workers lived in the city. But he had concerns about offering incentives to one group of city employees over another.
“If the goal of this measure is — in part — to ensure a continued focus on diversifying our police department, then I think that a physical address makes less difference than life experience and background,” Coleman said in the letter.
Thao agrees that there are different approaches that city government can take to attract police officers and other city workers to St. Paul neighborhoods, such as possibly turning city-owned houses over to interested city workers at lower than market rates.
Police “want the same thing that we want: They want a good paying job, they want a good life for them and their kids, and they want to serve the community well,” Thao said. “There are different tools of getting there, of creating a safe environment for constituents and police officers, and having these sort of invested relationships is one of those tools.”
Renewed interest in police residency
Police residency has seen a rebirth of interest as protests spread across the country following the police killings of unarmed black men in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri. The civil rights group Black Lives Matter Minneapolis recently made getting more police to live in the city one of its key demands.
In the past, Minneapolis and St. Paul were allowed by state law to require residency, although exceptions were available. But Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek proposed the 1999 bill that banned residency requirements when he was a Minneapolis police officer and state representative.
Stanek argued that the residency requirements actually hurt the city’s policing and infringed on police officers’ personal lives.
“They reduced the talent pool for new city workers, damaged worker loyalty and, worst of all, relegated Minneapolis to becoming a training ground for entry-level public safety personnel until they move onto other communities with higher pay and less restrictions on their personal lives,” Stanek said following the bill’s passage.
Former Minneapolis DFL Rep. Wes Skoglund was among those who strongly opposed banning residency requirements. In a 2009 story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Skoglund said some police who live in the suburbs come into Minneapolis like an occupying force.
“We have officers who have never been in a local store except to arrest somebody and have never gone for a walk in our parks unless they were chasing somebody,” Skoglund told the Plain Dealer. “There are absolutely some cops who see it as their responsibility to come in and supervise us.”
A bill proposed at the Legislature this session by Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, would allow cities to again require police officers to live in the cities in which they work. She said the bill was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Many in the black community are feeling hugely disconnected to law enforcement,” Moran said. “Law enforcement should be an entity that people trust, that they are utilizing, that they believe are there to serve and protect in the community. Right now that’s not there.”
Officials with the state’s biggest police union, the Minneapolis Federation of Police, didn’t respond to questions about their organization’s stance on residency incentives or requirements.
There have not been many examinations of how residency requirements affect police and community relations. But one study released in 1999 found that residents of cities with employee residency requirements actually had less confidence that police would protect them.
“It is possible that the critics of residency requirements are correct in arguing that such a requirement limits hiring pools, thus leading to poor personnel choices and a less qualified officer corps,” according to the 1999 study in the journal Policing.
Even if her bill doesn’t progress at the Legislature, Moran said she’s looking at other options such as tax credits or other incentives to get more officers to move into the communities they serve.
“Having an investment in the community you’re serving creates a completely different dynamic,” Moran said, “not only for police officers, but for members of the community to begin to build that trust and relationship and partnership that’s needed.”
The older history of police residency requirements
Interest in residency requirements for city workers has ebbed and flowed over the years. Many of the requirements were established after the turn of the 20th century as mechanisms to reward those who supported big city political machines, said Peter Eisinger, a professor emeritus at the New School in New York who studied residency requirements.
Except for a brief renewal during the Great Depression, requirements fell out of favor until the mid-1970s, when big cities started enforcing them again, largely as a way to preserve population or open up public sector jobs to African-Americans.
“Residency requirements were a hot issue as African-Americans started to win mayoralties around the country,” Eisinger said. “African-American mayors focused mostly on the notion of trying to keep money paid out by the city in the form of municipal employee salaries circulating within the city, rather than letting it drain out into the suburbs.”
But across the country, the requirements faced the opposition of public employee and police unions. In Minnesota, these forces allied with suburban and rural Republicans to outlaw residency requirements for city workers in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“That’s sort of confluence of political forces,” Eisinger said. “State legislatures, often in most states, dominated by suburban representatives, and municipal employee unions, worked together to ban or block residency requirements.”
Some large cities like Pittsburgh still maintain residency requirements, although they’re not strongly enforced. Other cities like Milwaukee and Detroit have only recently abandoned the requirements. Most large cities no longer have residency requirements on the books.
The current interest in promoting police residency is different from the past, Eisinger said, because it’s motivated not by economics, but by a desire for better community and police relations.