The issue of whether police officers should reside in the cities they serve has been controversial for years.
In Michigan, a 1999 state law prohibited residency requirements for police officers and other municipal employees, but the value of such a law is questioned by activists and some politicians. Stephen Henderson is joined by two reporters from Crain’s Detroit Business to discuss their reporting on the subject.
“We talked to several people who said they would be in favor [of requiring residency], but it’s just not realistic,” – Annalise Frank, Crain’s Detroit Business
Listen: Chad Livengood and Annalise Frank on the history and impact of the ban on residency requirements for Detroit police officers
Chad Livengood is senior editor for Crain’s Detroit Business. He says that residency requirements for police officers in Detroit date back to 1968 from an ordinance from the city council, but from then on have consistently been challenged or flouted by police officers.
“This was a public policy initiative that spread across the country in the late 60s and early 70s, and became very prevalent as a way to combat white flight but also diversify the police departments,” says Livengood.
Going into the 80s and 90s, the problem of police officers ignoring the residency requirement by keeping show addresses in the city while actually living in the suburbs. Livengood says that there was an entire team within internal affairs dedicated to investigating the authenticity of reported home addresses, which was costing the city a lot of money.
“This story kind of reinforced for me why education is everything and creating better schools in Detroit is the key to everything,” says Livengood. Livengood points out that schools are the reason why so many Black officers left the city for the suburbs.
On the question of taxes, “A police officer who lives in the suburbs but works in Detroit still pays the non-residency income tax rate of 1.2% versus the residency tax of 2.4%,” says Livengood. Livengood points to other measures that encourage residency like the Detroit Land Bank’s 50% discount on auctioned homes for firefighters, police officers, and teachers as an incentive to live in Detroit. Other incentives include Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo’s (D-Detroit) drafted legislation to create a $5,000 state income tax deduction for Detroit police officers.
Annalise Frank reports on the city of Detroit for Crain’s Detroit Business. In her reporting, she has found that 23% of Detroit Police officers reside within the city. Of the 54% Black police force, 62% of Black officers live outside of the city. Only 3% of white officers reside in Detroit.
While overturning the prohibition of residency requirements is a state-level decision, Frank attests that there is debate within city leadership about the ban. “We talked to several people who said they would be in favor, but it’s just not realistic,” says Frank.
Frank has reported that Detroit Police Chief James Craig claims that residency requirements would limit recruiting efforts. “He says that [DPD] does better now with building relationships with the community than it did then,” says Frank. However, she says this counters what some activists say, which is that if you’re firmly rooted in the community you see it as a friendly place to be, as opposed to a foreign battlefield where danger could be around every corner.
Police force demographics are also important to this conversation. Livengood says Detroit is an approximately 80% Black city, but there is a gap between this statistic and the 54% of Black Detroit police officers. However, Frank found in a FiveThirtyEight study that there is no correlation between residency requirements and the racial makeup of police departments.
According to Frank, small measures like bias training and residency requirements are not the changes activists are seeking. “Maybe [those changes] can help, but these are focusing on rooting out specific problem officers, as opposed to overhauling a system that many see a problematic [due to] systemic racial issues, and police culture,” says Frank.
This article was written by Detroit Today student producer Lauryn Azu.