What if most of the police officers serving in Ferguson, Missouri actually resided in the city of Ferguson? Would that have made a difference in the shooting death of Michael Brown? Research suggests otherwise. It isn't known how many Ferguson cops live there, but it can't be many considering the city is two-thirds African-American and only 11 percent of Ferguson's police force is black.
As the news site FiveThirtyEight reported yesterday, across the country, most police officers don't live in the cities they serve. In Los Angeles, less than a quarter of LAPD reside in city limits. Terrance Allen, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, says residents prefer to have law enforcement in the neighborhood, but data shows it does not make a difference on reports of misconduct.
"There are arguments on both sides," says Allen. "Police departments fight against residency for a number of reasons: for fear of retribution and having their families being exposed to criminal elements. They also have concerns about police officers doing favors for neighbors. Plus there’s the issue of police officers being able to afford homes." Allen found that residency requirements do not affect police conduct nor misconduct.
Even if one argues the residency discussion is simply a proxy for race, criminologists say black police officers treat black citizens the same as white officers. The tipping point for Allen is the importance of perception. "People in minority communities prefer to have minority officers, so that should be respected because policing has the potential to be so explosive."
Does race and residency have any impact whatsoever on policing? Would you prefer to have law enforcement officers reside in your neighborhood, rather than two counties away?
Terrence Allen, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin; Allen has studied police residency requirements
Connie Rice, Civil Rights Attorney; Co-Director, The Advancement Project; Board member, Southern California Public Radio