While its police force may be on the smallish side, Anoka is arguably one of the most guarded places around.
That’s because the suburb about 40 minutes north of the Twin Cities is home to 27 Minneapolis police officers, nearly outnumbering the town’s 29-member department.
Another 29 Minneapolis cops reside in nearby Andover, which doesn’t have its own police department.
In fact, Minneapolis police officers living outside of the city is more the rule than the exception. Of the department’s 873 sworn officers, only about 8 percent — or 72 officers — live in ZIP codes that cover most of Minneapolis, according to a Star Tribune analysis of city records. Not that times have changed all that much: in 1989, about 70 percent of the police force lived elsewhere.
Today, you’re more likely to run into a Minneapolis cop after hours and out of uniform in Hudson, Wis., (home to 10 officers) or Elk River (12) than in parts of the North Side, the records show. One officer commutes about 60 miles each way to the city from his or her home in Deronda, Wis.
The fractious debate over whether officers should live in the communities they patrol resurfaced in the wake of a series of high-profile police shootings, including that of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in south Minneapolis last month. One way of bridging the divide between law enforcement and communities of color is to have the two sides live next to each other, say some advocates.
New Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said at a community forum last week that where an officer lives matters less than his or her willingness to serve, and that working to stem racial profiling and recruit more minorities are more important to regaining public trust.
“I will take character over residency every day of the week,” Arradondo said. “I don’t care if a person lives in Alaska.”
There has been little appetite to repeal a state law barring cities from requiring their officers to live near the citizens they’re sworn to protect, said Minneapolis Council Member Blong Yang, chair of the Public Safety Committee, who said he is in favor of hiring more locals to the city’s police force.
Encouraging officers to live where they work so they can better relate to the people they serve would go a long way to building community trust, he said.
“It’s a feeling of like ‘These people are like us,’ ” said Yang. “There’s something to be said about that, when you can identify with them as humans and neighbors, and they’re not just hired guns that show up whenever the city of Minneapolis needs someone to enforce stuff.”
Others fear that hiring people from outside Minneapolis could mean a police department that’s out of touch with the realities of life in some of the city’s tougher neighborhoods.
“When a police officer lives in a community that they are supposed to serve, they’re going to feel more accountable, they feel more ownership, they’re going to have those community connections,” said Sam Sanchez, community organizer with Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar.
Some argue that residency requirements make it harder for the city to recruit and retain talented officers.
“We lost a lot of good people to a lot of other agencies when they did that,” said Lt. Bob Kroll, the police union president, citing a since-repealed 1994 state law that briefly granted Minneapolis the authority to require all new city employees to live where they work. “And they never came back.”
Each officer has his or her own reason for living outside the city, Kroll said. Some move away because of cost of living and school considerations, while others want to avoid having off-duty run-ins with people they arrest.
In the late 1990s, the union led a successful push to limit the power of Minneapolis and St. Paul to make their employees live where they work.
Sgt. Catherine Michal was a divorced mother of two when she joined the department in 1993, and she said she couldn’t afford to live in Minneapolis. With no one to watch her small children while she worked the overnight shift, Michal says she moved in with her parents in Inver Grove Heights. Without that flexibility, she says, her law enforcement career may have ended before it began. Michal, who has since remarried but continues to live outside Minneapolis, said living elsewhere helps cops maintain their mental well-being.
Although Philadelphia police are required to live within city limits, union officials several years ago negotiated a contract provision that allows officers to live outside the city after five years on the job. Missouri lifted residency requirements for St. Louis police in 2005 and last summer, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a state law that banned Milwaukee from requiring its officers to live in the city.
“Most departments have residency requirements, they’re just not as restrictive as the public would like them to be,” said M. Michaux Parker, an associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University East, who co-authored a 2013 study on officer residency requirements. Some departments require officers to live relatively close to their work, in case “there’s a riot situation or there’s some other type of civil unrest, every officer is going to have to be called in.”
“If your goal is to [improve] police-community relations, that’s one way of the doing it, but it’s not the only way of doing it,” he said.