By David Cruz
It used to be your neighborhood cop or firefighter actually lived in your neighborhood, providing an additional layer of protection, for sure, but they also played another important role in the lives of neighborhood kids.
“They were role models for the children who were growing up in the neighborhoods. I wanna be a fireman, I wanna be a police officer, a teacher, I wan to be a whatever. That was upwardly mobile,” said Newark City Council President Mildred Crump.
But, in big cities like Newark, cops and firefighters more frequently live in the suburbs, some as far away as the Jersey Shore or Philadelphia suburbs. But a new bill that just cleared a legislative committee would allow municipalities to require new cops and firefighters to live in the city where they work for five years. The idea is to reconnect cops with their communities.
“Which makes sense, you know. I lived in Newark since 1955. I’m a former police officer here, so I do understand it and a lot of police officers wanna live in the cities. The question is where do you live? We’ve always had that debate,” said Sen. Ron Rice.
But Rice may be overstating the desire of many cops to move into the towns they work in. The bill, which police unions oppose, makes an erroneous presumption, they say. Mainly, that cops will somehow care more, or be more understanding, when they approach their work, if they’re working around the block. Patrick Colligan is president of the New Jersey Police Benevolent Association.
“Since August of last year it’s very been difficult to be a police officer, not just in the inner city; we’ve been getting questioned and second-guessed everywhere,” Colligan said. “I don’t live in the community I work; I’ve never in 24 years, never once answered a call or investigated a crime and thought to myself, ‘Well, I don’t live here; I’m not really gonna care about this as much as if I lived here.’ That’s a ludicrous statement to be honest with you and that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The president of the Newark Police union said this week that Newark residents hate the police and requiring new cops to live here was just asking for trouble. Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins couldn’t disagree more.
“That is absolutely false,” she said. “We love our police officers and we love our fire department because they save our lives. We welcome them with open arms, and their families.”
The bill cleared the Judiciary Committee 3-2. It’s unclear right now what kind of timetable it’s on to get a vote before the entire Legislature.
In big cities, where crime is always a major issue, the hope is that bringing police and community closer together will help to facilitate a meeting of the minds.