Proposed law: First responders have to live where they serve

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey police officers and firefighters could be required to live in the towns they serve for the first five years of their employment if Gov. Chris Christie signs legislation moving toward his desk.

The law wouldn’t mandate police and firefighters live where they work; municipalities would have the option to enforce the residency requirement.

Still police and fire unions say they object strongly to the proposal.

“We don’t support it and we’re hoping for once the governor vetoes something that would help police and firefighters,” Eddie Donnelly, president of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association told The Press of Atlantic City (http://bit.ly/1GXnGqW). “Why only police and fire? Why not teachers and other public employees?”

State Sen Jeff Van Drew said there are too many potential problems with Bill S-2783, which the Senate passed June 25. While noting it is a positive to have police and firefighters live in the town they serve, he said it shouldn’t be mandated.

“I think they’re going through enough,” said Van Drew who voted against the bill last week.

But one of the bill’s co-sponsors, state Sen. Jim Whelan said he would like to see the residency requirement even more stringent and extend the length of the employee’s career.

Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, said police officers and firefighters there would often move into town to meet the civil service residency requirement, take the test, and complete the police academy, only to move out of the city the day after they were sworn.

Pat Colligan president of the New Jersey State Policemen‘s Benevolent Association, said if Whelan, a former teacher, was sincere about the law, he would have made the same residency requirement for teachers.

Whelan said there are benefits to having police and firefighters live locally.

Their presence would bolster middle class through their involvement.

“There are strains between the community and police and one of them is particularly minority communities. They feel police departments are not from the community and reflective of the community and that’s a problem,” he said.

Van Drew said affluent municipalities will run into difficulty enforcing the residency requirement. He pointed to towns like Stone Harbor and Avalon where newly hired police officers would not be able to afford to live.

“That’s pretty impossible to live in a wealthy town where they work, especially if they’re starting off at $30,000 a year.

Galloway Township Manager Susan Jacobucci said police should live in the towns where they work because it adds to community policing and may act as a deterrent to crime in the area.

The township, which is adding officers soon, does not require its police officers live in town, but just over 90 percent do anyway.

She said the officers who don’t live locally have reasons such as job scheduling, school and travel arrangements for spouses and children.

“I don’t think you can paint all 565 municipalities with a broad brush. Further, it may severely diminish a municipality’s pool of eligible candidates when they are recruiting for officers, thus hampering diversity as well,” she said.

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Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Proposed-law-First-responders-have-to-live-where-6366177.php