Rochester is joining an upstate movement to have new police officers live where they work.
Mayor Lovely Warren said the city is following Buffalo and Syracuse in asking its state delegation to enact a local law that would require new hires to live in the city.
“Having our police officers live in the community they protect and serve will build relationships and strengthen our neighborhoods,” Warren said at an Aug. 31 news conference at City Hall. “Ultimately, both officers and their neighbors will benefit and, I’m confident, our city will be safer because of connections made. “
She said the city also would benefit by keeping salaries and resources closer to home.
The law would affect only new hires and not be retroactive.
Currently, 47 of the RPD’s 713 sworn officers live in the city. The chief is the only member of the command staff required to live in Rochester, and La’Ron Singletary moved after being appointed to the job last year.
Asked whether she would expect resistance from the police union, Warren said, “Buffalo and Syracuse (representatives) have introduced it. We’re asking ours to do as well.”
She said the residency requirement would be another way – along with body-worn cameras, instituting reforms such as banning chokeholds and putting officers back in neighborhoods — the city has tried to improve police-community relations.
The Rochester Police Locust Club held a news conference after the mayor’s announcement.
Union President Mike Mazzeo said he does not favor having different sets of rules for officers. But his major reaction was that the union was not told the city was considering the requirement. He said the city and union are in contract negotiations and the issue of residency should be part of collective bargaining – as it had been years ago.
“It gives us the ability to have a conversation,” he said of negotiations. “To suddenly force something now … shows maybe the desire not to have any communication.”
He said if negotiations broke down over the issue, then he would expect the city to seek a way to impose the requirement.
During the city’s news conference, Warren said she and City Council President Loretta Scott said they were sending letters to each member of the local delegation to Albany and planned to meet with leaders of the Assembly and Senate.
The letter said the legislation would treat police officers “like the vast majority of our other municipal employees, who must move into the city within a year of their appointment.”
The requirement would not include the Rochester Fire Department.
“I can say all day that I want a police department that reflects the community it serves,” Singletary said at the City Hall news conference. “A residency requirement may be the start of such.”
Mazzeo said the police department has trouble recruiting and keeping officers. Asked how a residency requirement for only new hires would affect current officers, he said they might wonder what other mandates may be enacted.
A residency requirement would not say that new officers must initially be from the city. Currently, most recruits are from outside Rochester. In 2019, city residents made up 312 of the 1,048 applicants to take the test to see if they qualified for the RPD. In 2020, city residents were 224 of the 891 applicants.
However, when City Council approved the budget for 2020-21, it cut the recruit class in half and funded training for 19 individuals.
Asked how she saw the difference those officers could make by being city residents, she said, “This is just a start. As with everything, it’s one tool in the toolbox to improve our relations with our community.”
A local law established the Police Accountability Board. The Locust Club took City Council to court, claiming the law violated collective bargaining rights. The court initially ruled for the union, and City Council is filing an appeal.