Oct 21, 201309:30 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Residency Rule: A Change of Mind
My mom, who lived in the city, once had a next-door neighbor who was a policeman. One day she was working in her front yard when some con man came by trying to collect money for a scam charity. Her neighbor, the cop, saw what was happening, approached my mom, put his arm around her shoulder and told the man, “This is my mother, I am a policeman. I don’t want to see you around again.” The man quickly drove away and never returned.
Fortunately there is no law against impersonating the mother of a police officer. I was grateful for the neighbor’s response and was always comforted by knowing that a policeman was living next door.
I live in the city, too, and I wish I had a policeman, or two, living on my block with their squad cars parked on the street. Ideally it would be nice if all of the city’s police lived in the city. For those reasons, and as someone who is totally partisan for New Orleans, I once favored the residency requirement which mandates that police officers must live in the city and which is being reconsidered by the city council.
I changed my mind the day Eddie Compass came, so to speak, out of the closet. Compass was police chief under Ray Nagin. He was a career cop who worked his way through the ranks. Katrina was rough on him but for most of his career he was a respected officer.
During his time as chief, Compass took the same position, as did Nagin, favoring the residency rule. But then one day, with the implied approval of his boss, he changed his position. It was during an interview when he conceded that it was time to suspend the residency rule. The reason was so logical that it was a wonder why there was any argument at all: The talent pool, when it was limited to New Orleans, was just too small.
There were, he added, many accomplished police officers who worked for suburban and rural sheriff’s offices who would like to work for the NOPD, but did not want to move their family to do so. The more I thought about it the more it made sense. Some of the most promising candidates were young men with young families who were more adapted to the suburban lifestyle, but they were still good cops. Compass lamented about how limited his choices were, as though he was the one who was handcuffed.
Some people argue that there is a racial undertone to this issue, since cities have a larger minority population, but it is relevant to this story that Compass was black as was the mayor he worked for as was the council majority at the time. What they were looking at was not race but public safety.
Whenever this issue surfaces it is usually presented as a short-term moratorium to fill the ranks, as happened after Katrina. Truth is, a region, any region is always going to have more people to draw from than the city within it. Why limit the choices?
And, if having more and better policemen makes the city safer, that might make it more attractive for police officers, who see the raw side of life, to move to town. Then maybe one day everybody’s mom will have a cop living next door, not because they were made to, but because they wanted to.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is due to be released Oct. 31, 2013. It is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
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