Monday, July 18, 2016

LR police residency issue: Us vs. them

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 7:29 AM


Chelsea Boozer writes in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning that City Director Erma Hendrix has again called for a city residency requirement for city police. The Fraternal Order of Police has again taken umbrage. The proposal isn't likely to go farther than the last unsuccessful vote on the issue.

But the subject remains important — maybe even more important than ever in the current national turmoil about police-community relations and violence by and against police. Some attitudes clearly need adjusting.

Let's start with Police Chief Kenton Buckner, who lends weight to those cops who want to live outside the city by offering the Little Rock School District as an excuse. Thanks, chief, for buying into the propaganda and writing off the Little Rock School District.

What exactly is the problem with LRSD, chief? Do you have a clue? Is it because the district is overwhelmingly black and poor? It can't simply be quality of education because the district includes some of the state's best schools, from pre-K to high school.

The cops claim higher housing prices drive them out of the city. The city includes a wide range of housing prices, competitive in many cases. You'd be amazed at what a small amount of money will buy in the Central High neighborhood, for example — not to mention proximity to one of the best high schools in the state.

I'm not ready to commit for a city residency requirement. I AM ready to commit to rich incentives to encourage police officers to live in Little Rock. And I'd like to see the department stop allowing officers who live 50 miles away in Lonoke County to drive cruisers home from work.

But you'd have to be blind to say that the decision of a majority of police officers to live outside the city doesn't contribute to an us vs. them appearance — if not reality. Mercenaries ride in to stand guard over a godforsaken wasteland and then retreat to safety at night? What is it our guards are fleeing? Is it really ONLY higher housing prices?

Boozer's article noted that only 183 of 528 officers live in Little Rock on a force with 343 white officers.

Her article does not include the most telling element of the racial dimension of police residency, a figure I dug up last year during the previous debate.

Of 160 black officers, 99, or 62 percent, live in the city. Of 354 white officers, only 75, or 21 percent, live in the city.
I note that in a year's time, the number of black officers has increased by 5 and the number of white officers by 11.The number of city residents among cops rose by six during that time. Want to bet how the new cops broke down in terms of residency by race?

Bottom line: The city of Little Rock is 48.9 percent white, according to Census data. Its police force is 65 percent white. And of those white officers, according to last year's figures, only one in five lives in the city. It is a commentary, no matter how you slice it.

But I repeat myself from a year ago.

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