In the aftermath of George Floyd's death, one of many police reforms under consideration is requiring officers to live in the cities they serve. In fact, the Minnesota Human Rights Department is looking at residency rules as part of its investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Legislation introduced during the June special session included a measure that would allow cities to make residency mandatory for officers. While many provisions in the proposed bill are welcome, that particular change would be counterproductive.
Minneapolis has had experience with and without residency rules, and although there may be pluses, there's little evidence they make a significant difference. There are better ways to drive fundamental change in policing.
Just over 20 years ago, Minneapolis required officers to live in the city. But in 1999, the Legislature banned residency requirements. MPD says about 7% of its officers now live in Minneapolis. In St. Paul, 22% of sworn officers live in the city; the national average is 40%.
MPD officers live mostly in suburban areas, with some exceptions, and concentrate in Anoka, Andover, Elk River, St. Paul, St. Cloud and Hudson, Wis. The four officers charged in Floyd's killing are from Oakdale, St. Paul, Plymouth and Coon Rapids.
The idea behind residency rules is that officers who call a city home will be more personally invested in the city and therefore provide higher-quality service. But restricting hiring to only candidates living within Minneapolis ZIP codes would limit the pool of applicants department leaders have to choose from.
In recent years, police and city leaders have consistently told the Star Tribune Editorial Board that recruiting quality candidates is getting more difficult at the same time they are striving to bring more diversity to their departments. People choose homes and neighborhoods for a range of reasons, and a mandate would likely exclude good candidates.
When the Minneapolis City Council considered taking up a residency requirement in 2017, the group Communities United Against Police Brutality recommended against it, calling it a "distraction" from more significant reform. Overhauling police departments and changing laws to end practices such as no-knock warrants and chokeholds were more important steps, they argued. "Throughout our research, we have never encountered a shred of evidence that requiring or incentivizing police officers to live in the communities in which they work has any positive effect on the quality of policing," the group states in its reform recommendations.
Nevertheless, our view is that cities should consider taking reasonable steps to encourage officers to live within their borders. Voluntary incentives — such as mortgage deals, day-care assistance and bonus points on civil service exams — could be offered.
Being part of a neighborhood — on duty or off — can help foster community policing and help break down the us-vs.-them, occupation-force culture that too often harms police-community relations.
But in our view, encouraging rather than requiring residency is the best approach.