Would Baton Rouge Police Residency Help Race Relations?

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After a fraught few weeks for Baton Rouge law enforcement, which saw protests after the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police, as well as murder of three law enforcement officers, some officials are contemplating changes in city residency requirements for officers, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Two city council members are sponsoring a bill that would require all Baton Rouge police officers hired after 2016 to live in the city. The measure, which sponsors say is intended to remedy racial imbalance within the police force, has met significant criticism from those who say it is an ill-timed measured aimed not at real change, but mere political gain. Nationally, residency requirements have long met opposition from those who say they are difficult to enforce, and can hurt departments’ abilities to recruit the best officers. Supporters say such requirements can go a long way toward fostering better relations between police and the community.

None of the three officers killed was a Baton Rouge resident. They lived nearby Livingston Parish. Council members Chauna Banks-Daniel and LaMont Cole proposed the residency requirement. Their rationale is that officers from the areas they police are better able to understand their communities, and therefore more likely to be accepted by the people they protect. Proponents say a residency rule could ease tensions and reduce crime. Currently, while over half of the city’s population is African American, just 30 percent of the city’s police officers are, leaving the African-American population underrepresented in the law enforcement agency that polices them. Critics call the measure “political pandering” and say that restricting the applicant pool can cut qualified officers out of the running for positions where talent is sorely needed. New Orleans dispensed with a residency requirement in 2014 for recruiting reasons. Boston has had a difficult time enforcing a residency requirement, finding that 13 out of Boston’s 22 top law enforcement officials live outside of the city.

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