Milwaukee Debate: Should Police Officers Live In City?

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Much criticism of the police in recent years has centered on whether officers know the communities they patrol and understand the culture of the people who live in them. It is a question Wisconsin residents have been passionate about since the Wisconsin Supreme Court in June upheld a state law that eliminated a requirement that Milwaukee police officers live in the city, the New York Times reports. Some African-American residents worry that eliminating the requirement will worsen a long-strained relationship between black communities and the police. The fractured relationship has been on display after the fatal police shooting last weekend of an armed black man, Sylville Smith, led to explosive street demonstrations.

Keyon Jackson-Malone, a resident of the city’s predominantly black north side, said he feared that without a residency requirement, people would start coming from farther and farther away to serve as Milwaukee police officers. The suburbs and exurbs are among the whitest in the country, and some have a rural feel. “There’s some white people that actually only know black people by what they’ve ever heard,” Jackson-Malone said. “There’s no experience. There’s no, ‘I went to school with 30 of them.’ ” Mayor Tom Barrett said that eliminating the residency requirement would stifle efforts to make the police force more diverse and strengthen the city’s economy. “It actually makes the potential for both of those problems to get worse,” he said. “You’re going to have more middle-class incomes leaving the city. I’m very concerned about the impact of this law on police-community relations.”

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