Policy: Rebuilding Trust Between Communities and Law Enforcement Officers
America is hurting. We’re seeing cities across this country and within our state suffer greatly. There is no single policy that can repair the growing divide many communities see between themselves and the law enforcement officers policing them. This process will include hundreds of conversations, some of them extremely difficult. What I want to do today is put forward one change I think would help us along the path towards bringing peace and justice back to our communities.
In Minneapolis, only 8% of the 873 officers live in Minneapolis zip codes. By living as far away as St. Cloud or Wisconsin but policing neighborhoods in some cases 60 miles away, officers can find themselves in an extremely difficult situation. Being a police officer is a difficult enough job by itself, but by being so far removed from the community you’re trying to do your job in, it becomes nearly impossible.
Here in the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks community, we’re currently mourning the loss of officer Cody Holte. He made himself visible and present in the community by doing things like volunteering at local food banks. He was able to do that because he lived within the community. If someone lived in Grand Forks but was a police officer up in Hallock, they would have a difficult time being part of their town in the same way officer Holte was.
When law enforcement officers are part of their communities, they have greater incentives to be more effective at their jobs. Safeguarding a neighborhood your children play in is a more meaningful job, and one people will naturally want to be better at, than safeguarding a community miles and miles away. It also allows a much more rapid response to a local crisis if you’re a couple blocks away rather than a couple zip codes away.
Local businesses also benefit because then the taxpayer salaries of law enforcement are more likely to be put back into the community paying those taxes. Loss of that tax base, if officers move out of the city, can even become a contributing factor to downward economic spirals. One recent case of that was Detroit. They eliminated their residency requirement for police and in eleven years saw 53% of their officers move out of the city. This was a major loss for the tax revenue of the city and income for local businesses alike right when Detroit was already entering a recession.
The key, though, is ensuring that a connection between law enforcement and their community exists. When it is broken it is extremely difficult to rebuild, but having local accountability for officers by having them live in or near the communities they are policing is one step we should take. The Civil Service Tests that people must fill out when applying to be law enforcement should include a metric for rewarding the proximity of an applicant to the precinct they would be stationed in.
As I said at the start, the process of police and criminal justice reform is a long one that will not be solved with just one policy. Rebuilding the trust between our communities and police is similarly going to include a whole series of reforms. Residency restrictions is one small part of this, but I believe it is an important one that will help us move forward.