|Communities Should Demand Police Residency
by Jamala Rogers
The bright light on police scrutiny since the murder of George Floyd is looking at layers of corruption and what I call privilege; privilege because
there are policies and laws that only apply to law enforcement, especially police. Currently communities are ramping up their efforts to make a
police residency requirement a major demand. They believe police ought to live where they work and have a political and economic investment in
the cities who pay their salaries.
There are several reports that claim police residency does not improve the relationships between residents and the cops who are sworn to protect
them. Many of those residents would disagree.
The standard respond to lethal encounters by white cops is often that “I feared for my life” or that “I felt threatened.” This fear, whether real or
perceived, could be minimized if white officers lived among the residents and got to know their neighbors. Yusef and Ray-Ray won’t look as
menacing when you ride up on them if they’re the same kids who cut your grass or who are on the same football team as your son. Communities of
color want the police to know the people they patrol and to understand their culture. And understand that all Black people don’t look alike!
Police justify their opposition to the concept of required residency by saying that they and their families are in danger if they have to live among the
same people who they have to arrest and investigate. I would add, or who they harass, assault, free-case or kill. There does exist plenty of data that
shows the frequency of ugly interactions between white cops and their Black
and Brown residents.
In Madison, the Black population is only nine percent, yet they’ve been
subject to higher rates of force than whites. A police department that is 80
percent white directs almost half of its time towards that nine percent. There’
s something wrong with this picture.
The Milwaukee demographics are quite different, but the police interactions
are similar. Blacks make up nearly 40 percent of the population while the
police force is nearly 70 percent white. The history of racist occupation of
Milwaukee Black neighborhoods is long and violent. Those residents would
say it’s because the cops don’t reflect their community.
Wisconsin’s former Republican governor Scott Walker signed legislature that
took the power away from local governments to set residency mandates.
When Milwaukee pushed back, the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with the
police and fire unions.
There once existed conventional wisdom that police residency requirements
would aid in the diversity of police departments. I surmise that recruiting
Blacks for a police career is now a huge challenge. The professional has
become one that is despised and disrespected by the Black community. It
makes police residency that more important.
The battle of where police live and work doesn’t have to be over. There’s a
national movement demanding bold changes in urban policing. Wisconsin
has a new state court that may look at issues like this differently than it did in
On the way to defunding the police, let’s take a look at residency, police
contracts and laws that are in place to protect rogue cops and corrupt
prosecutors. Where police live and work matters. Laws matter. Black lives