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Updated: February 18, 2021, 9:37 AM

Most mayoral candidates back rule requiring new NYPD cops to live in NYC

By Matthew Chayes

Nearly all the front-running candidates for New York City mayor want to require new NYPD cops to live in one of the five boroughs.

Under various proposals — which would all require a change to state law — new cops who live outside the city would need to move in and stay for at least two years, if not longer, or be disqualified from the job.

While a similar mandate is already in place for most municipal jobs in the city, cops, along with certain others like firefighters and jail guards, can also live in Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Westchester, Putnam or Orange counties.

Long Island is home to more NYPD officers than any other jurisdiction outside of the city: about 33% of the NYPD’s cops — the current head count is about 35,000 — live in Nassau or Suffolk counties, according to NYPD spokeswoman Sgt. Jessica McRorie. About 51% of NYPD cops live outside of the city.

Among the front-runners, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who ran unsuccessfully for president last year and is now polling first in the mayoral race, said recently he supports a residency requirement. Other candidates backing it include Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president; Shaun Donovan, a former Bloomberg and Obama aide; Kathryn Garcia, Mayor Bill de Blasio's former sanitation commissioner; Maya Wiley, MSNBC pundit and former counsel to de Blasio; and Raymond J. McGuire, a business executive.

Mayoral candidate Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, opposes it, and Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, is open to it but hasn't explicitly backed a residency requirement.

Mandatory city residency would be yet another legacy to emerge from the unrest over the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In New York State, those policy changes have included the repeal of a decades-old secrecy law shielding cops’ disciplinary records; the installation of a permanent outside prosecutor for suspicious deaths of civilians involving the police; and the linking of state aid to a police force’s "reform" plans.

"You should be of the community — certainly when you start on the force," Yang told WNYC radio last month. "And that, I believe, would fundamentally change the dynamic, because instead of seeing folks as strangers or potential perpetrators, you see them as your neighbors."

Although the general election isn’t until November, the Democratic primary is June 22, and in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 7 to 1, winning the Democratic primary is usually akin to winning the whole race.

In a poll released last week, by Core Decision Analytics, Yang was the race front-runner, with 28%; Adams polled second, with 17%; Stringer got 13%; Donovan and Wiley both polled at 8%; and Garcia, McGuire and Morales each got 2%.

"If there’s any issue in this city, where making sure folks understand the communities they’re policing and build relationships, it is there. I would change and make sure there was a residency requirement," Donovan said recently, according to WNYC.

While not endorsing it, Stringer "believes the NYPD should reflect the NYC communities they serve, and that we should explore a residency requirement, particularly at higher levels where diversity is lacking the most," his spokesman, Tyrone Stevens, wrote over text message.

Morales tweeted earlier this month: "there is NO evidence that residency has a positive effect on police performance or community relations. NYC needs leadership that prioritizes policy changes that will save Black and Brown lives, not tinker around the edges of reform."

Adams spokesman Evan Thies said the candidate also supports tightening the circumstances under which civil-service test-takers get bonus points for city residency, including for promotions.

In an emailed statement sent by the NYPD’s largest rank-and-file labor union, the Police Benevolent Association, President Patrick Lynch said: "We can’t talk about changing the NYPD residency requirements without talking about police officers’ pay … Requiring them to live in the city and shoulder its sky-high cost of living on a below-market salary will hurt NYPD recruitment efforts, not improve them."

Across the United States, residency for municipal workers like cops first became the norm in the late 1800s and early 1900s during the time of "old-machine-era" politics that dominated many city governments, according to Peter Eisinger, an emeritus professor of public policy at the New School in Manhattan. He said the number of municipalities with residency policies was greatly reduced under the progressivism of the early 20th century.

But after the racial turmoil of the 1960s, there was a resurgence in the 1970s of residency requirements, and by 1980, about two-thirds of all cities with populations of more than 250,000 had such laws, most of which were passed in the prior decade, according to a paper Eisinger published in 1983.

"That, I think, didn’t turn out so well. What you got was … cops tended to cluster in all-cop ghettos," he said. He noted how even today, in New York City, where there is no city-residency rule, a disproportionate number cluster in places like Staten Island.

He added: "The argument that you wanted a residency requirement to make sure that municipal employees were integrated in the city probably didn’t hold."

It wasn’t just a goal of easing racial tensions that led municipalities to rediscover residency requirements, he said. Cities, particularly those hard hit during the fiscal troubles of the 1970s, wanted to retain tax revenue and recirculate salaries in the spending of public employees instead of letting the money go to places like the suburbs.

The requirements were unpopular among some cops: In 1971, an NYPD cop who lived in the suburbs asked a New York Times reporter writing about the proposal, supported by then-Mayor John Lindsay, to require city residency: "Would you let your wife walk these streets at night? Let’s face it. We have anarchy here."

The requirements were the subject of a challenge that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld them.

Eisinger hasn’t updated his study, and it’s unclear how many jurisdictions nowadays require workers like cops to live where they work.

Still, residency requirements are no elixir.

For more than a century, Chicago has imposed a residency requirement, albeit one that’s unevenly enforced, and it hasn't prevented cops there from being "notoriously violent," Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform, said in a statement sent by her office.

While state legislation was introduced last year to mandate residency, the proposal faces uncertain prospects among the three legislative leaders who control Albany.

Representatives of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins didn’t return messages seeking comment. When asked in an email about Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's position on the proposal, spokesman Michael Whyland wrote: "The Speaker’s preference is that officers live in and are more familiar with the communities they serve."