Residency rule would ‘hold hostage’ police and firefighters, union says

TRENTON — A bill allowing New Jersey municipalities to require police officers and firefighters to live in the towns they serve for their first five years on the job is a step closer to making it to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk.

The bill (S2783) was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee Monday. The Assembly Judiciary committee also approved the bill in March. The measure now advances to the full Senate and Assembly for votes.

Under the bill the public employees would have six months from their start dates to relocate.

“Being a policeman isn’t just about going to work,” said Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson). “One way of community policing is by having police and firemen in the communities they serve.”

New Jersey law, effective since 2011, requires all new public workers to live in-state, but there is no state mandate on how long new police or firefighters are required to live in their jurisdiction. However, individual municipalities require new police or firefighters to live in their communities for at least a year.

Union representatives testified against the bill.

“We live in America, where someone may move about as they see fit. The bill will hold hostage an individual because of their job. America will no longer be the home of the free,” said Dominick Marino, president of the professional firefighters association of New Jersey told the Senate budget committee.

James Stewart, president of Newark’s chapter of the Fraternal Order Police lived in Newark for several years before he married and moved away.

Tensions between police and the residents in the communities they serve have made the municipalities a “dangerous environment” for public servants and their families to live, Stewart said.

“Living in the community doesn’t make the job of a cop easier, it makes it harder,” Stewart told the committee. “Why are we putting our cops in this situation unnecessarily?”

NJ Advance Media staff writer Matt Friedman contributed to this report.