There are many potentially lasting lessons that will come from the George Floyd tragedy. One of them is that communities and police need to understand each other better to foster stronger relationships.
There are many ways to nurture those connections. Here’s a basic one: It makes sense to require police officers to live where they work.
Chicago has a long-standing residency requirement for its police officers. However, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot gears up for contentious, fiery negotiations with the Police Department’s main union, she can expect a push to eliminate the residency rule from the contract.
Lightfoot should stand her ground. With a residency requirement, officers are more likely to be as invested in the city’s health and future as every other resident. Who has a better feel for the pulse of Chicago: a cop who lives and works in the city, or a cop who goes home to Palatine as soon as the day’s shift ends?
Other pluses: Residency rules in diverse cities tend to make department rosters more diverse, as long as officials who do the hiring genuinely make diversity a goal. And, in a city that struggles to keep its middle class from pulling up stakes for the ’burbs, a residency requirement serves as a stabilizer.
Chicago has had a residency requirement for police for roughly a century. Elsewhere in America, residency rules for police face elimination — either by lawmakers or by the courts.
In 2016, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a state law that barred Milwaukee from requiring police officers to live in the city. A similar measure that would eliminate the residency requirement for St. Louis police officers has been proposed in the Missouri legislature. In Kansas City, Mo., officers have found a way to circumvent the residency rule — officials in that city say some officers are renting trailers within city boundaries while maintaining permanent residences somewhere else.
Residency requirements don’t work for every profession. In 2001, we argued against them in the case of teachers. We worried that application of the rule would diminish the pool of quality teachers willing to work at Chicago schools, at a time when teacher quality was a major shortcoming.
For police, however, the residency requirement helps cement the bond between officer and community.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE