Christie vetoes bill allowing N.J. towns to have police, fire recruits live within borders

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TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed a bill that would have allowed New Jersey municipalities to require new police and fire recruits to live in the cities and towns where they work for at least five years.

The moves marks a defeat for a coalition of politicians and legislators led by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who had touted the requirement as an opportunity to strengthen bonds between police and the communities they patrol.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Baraka strongly criticized the governor’s decision, particularly in light of his focus on crime-fighting initiatives during his presidential campaign.

“With all of the discussion and grandstanding by the governor around Black Lives Matterand proposed crime reduction strategies, it would seem that supporting a bill which requires police officers to live in the communities that they police would be an easy task for him,” he said. “Instead, the governor chose to veto a bill which is policy in many cities around the country.”

Baraka also cast the governor’s rejection as a slight against the state’s cities, saying it would have helped boost their respective tax bases and community policing efforts.

“Police officers living on neighborhood blocks makes that block safer. It also reinforces the message that if Newark is good enough to work in, it’s good enough to live in,” he said.

The veto came as welcome news to public safety unions and their supporters across the state, who fought vigorously against the measure, saying it would have placed an undue hardships on their members.

In March, Newark Fraternal Order of Police President James Stewart Jr. told a legislative committee that anti-police sentiment in the media and demonstrations around the country had made many officers were fearful to live in the communities where they work.

“Everything you see on social media. Everything you see in the media. The community hates the police,” he said at the time.

Many opponents also noted that it would be difficult for rookie cops and firefighters to afford homes in communities like Alpine, West Caldwell or Millburn.

State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), who co-sponsored the bill, said supporters were sensitive to that argument and the bill had been crafted to allow towns to enact the requirement or opt out if they felt the law could adversely affect hiring.

“That would be unreasonable. It was crafted purposefully to satisfy that objection,” he said.

Currently, police and fire recruits in New Jersey municipalities within the civil service system are required to live in town during their first year on the job, which is a probationary period.

Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, which opposed the bill, said law enforcement officers’ response to a call or case doesn’t depend on whether they live in the community where they work.

But they’re going to resent being forced to live somewhere and leave as soon as they can, he said, adding they should be lured with incentives, not legislation.

“It’s very difficult to tell officers that they have to live in towns that they’re working in,” Colligan said. “I would certainly applaud them living in the town, but I wouldn’t want to legislative them living in the town.”

NJ Advance Media staff writer Samantha Marcus contributed to this report.

Dan Ivers may be reached at divers@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DanIversNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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