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City seeking to establish police residency requirement 

New officers hired by the Rochester Police Department could soon be required to live in the city, if Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council President Loretta Scott can convince state legislators to make a change in law.

click to enlarge RPD Chief La'Ron Singletary. - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • RPD Chief La'Ron Singletary.
Warren and Scott announced Monday that they want to introduce a local law placing a residency requirement on all new officers hired by the RPD. But in order for the city to enact that mandate for new-hire police officers, the state Public Officers Law needs to be modified, since it prohibits residency requirements for police officers and firefighters.

To that end, the mayor and the council president have sent a letter to state Senator Joseph Robach asking him to sponsor legislation which would grant the Rochester City Council the authority to enact a local law requiring police officers to live in the city after they are hired by the RPD. The new local law, should it materialize, would have no effect on existing officers.

“Having our police officers live in the community they protect and serve will build relationships and strengthen our neighborhoods,” Warren said, at a news conference Monday afternoon. “Ultimately, both police officers and the neighborhoods will benefit, and I’m confident our city will be safer because of the connections made.”

Rochester isn’t alone — Sen. Timothy Kennedy has already introduced a bill to modify the law to allow Buffalo to establish a residency requirement, and Syracuse is currently in the process of doing the same.

Warren said that if the necessary state legislation is passed, she will immediately introduce legislation to the City Council that would enact a residency requirement for new RPD officers. The New York legislature is currently not in session, so any bill introduced likely wouldn’t be voted on until 2021.

“Our request to expand residency requirements to newly hired police officers is not radical, it’s common sense,” Scott said. “City police should live in the city, our police officers should be our neighbors, we should see them walking their dog or mowing their lawn.”

Currently, all city employees hired after Oct. 1, 2008 are required to live in the city, except for firefighters and police. Currently, 47 of RPD’s 713 officers live in the city, including Chief La’Ron Singletary, who supports the proposed residency.

Officers living in the city would assist in battling against the “perception” that police officers are outsiders, Singletary said.

“I think we’re at a moment in time where we have to take a look at opportunities that are presented to us, even if those include residency requirements or changes to civil service requirements,” Singletary said. “What it boils down to is what’s in the hearts and minds of police officers.”

Rochester Police Locust Club President Michael Mazzeo was less enthusiastic. The requirement would likely cause a drastic reduction in the number of police recruits, he said. Mazzeo also said the union was upset that it did not “have a seat at the table” in conversations around the law.

Mazzeo also raised the question on whether a residency requirement will actually improve police relations. While activists and city government said the law would help improve perception of officers, it’s still a topic of debate.

For example, a 1999 study from Policing: An International Journal concluded that in large municipalities, residency requirements often negatively impacted perceptions of police.

“The move to pursue legislation is just another way to not deal with the union and with collective bargaining rights,” Mazzeo said. “It’s wrong.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.

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