Philly Mayor Kenney angling to revive residency requirement for city cops

By Michael D’Onofrio

As talks begin between Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and the city’s police union in the waning months of the union’s contract, a high-ranking city official said the administration wants police to live in the city they patrol.

“We will be asking for residency changes in this contract,” City Manager Brian Abernathy said.

Abernathy made the brief comment in the middle of an hours-long Philadelphia City Council committee hearing on another police issue earlier in the week.

Kenney administration officials, Abernathy said, were more than three months away from presenting their contract proposals to the police union, whose current contract ends in June 2020. He declined to comment further, saying he refused to negotiate in public.

Kenney administration spokeswoman Lauren Cox declined to elaborate in an email about what specific residency requirements the administration wants.

But Cox said the mayor has “consistently believed that requiring all City workers to live within City boundaries, alongside the people they serve, is important to having a well-run City, with a workforce directly tied to the overall community.”

The mayor already has the support of some council-members and Black community leaders.

Solomon Jones, who heads Rally for Justice Coalition, said the group of Black city leaders and activists have been advocating for the administration to reinstate the residency requirement in the upcoming contract, as well as address issues around the arbitration and disciplinary process for officers accused of misconduct.

Cops better understand and relate to residents when they live in the city they patrol, Jones said.

“We want people who live here, who have a stake here, who are raising their families here and who understand the people here, rather than people who come from outside and tend to view us in ways that might be derogatory,” Jones said.

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John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, declined to discuss the topic, FOP spokesman Michael Neilon said in an email.

The city has mandated residency requirements for nearly all city employees since the 1950s, but police and some other public workers are exempt.

In 2010, the police union won the right for some members to live outside the city limits; the terms went into effect in 2012 for all officers who have five or more years of experience. The requirement was dropped for members of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in 2012, too.

Firefighters and sheriff’s deputies with five or more years of service were allowed to live outside of the city in 2016. Teachers are not required to live where they work.

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Initially, only about 3 percent of the entire police force chose to ditch the city for the suburbs in 2012, another news outlet reported. Now, approximately 30 percent of the city’s police officers now live outside of Philadelphia, Acting Commissioner Christine Coulter said at the council committee hearing this week.

The department is majority white (53 percent) in a city where the population is majority Black (44 percent).

District 2 City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, a Democrat, said easing the residency requirement for officers has contributed to a lack of a cultural awareness for some officers and a disconnect between cops and the neighborhoods they serve.

“If you’ve never really interacted in the city with city individuals, you’re going to come with a cultural deficit when it comes to operating in that particular neighborhood,” Johnson said on Thursday on the floor of the City Council Chambers in City Hall.

“It [the residency requirement] can only add to the issue of public safety.”

District 4 City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., a Democrat who heads the council’s Committee on Public Safety, said officers living in the city also produce a “calming effect” in the neighborhoods where they live.

“When they are a part of the community every day,” he said, “they’re able to relate to the community even more.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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