Most of Toronto's newest police don't live in Toronto
The issue of where police officers live — and whether it matters — is a hot topic south of the border.
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Fewer than half of Toronto’s new police recruits — 21 of 44 — actually live here, continuing a tradition of the vast majority of police officers not residing in the city they serve.
Most Toronto officers — between 80 and 85 per cent, according to former deputy chief Peter Sloly — make their homes in places such as Ajax or Burlington and other suburban and small-town settings where life differs greatly from this increasingly diverse big city.
The issue of where police officers live — and whether it matters — is a hot topic south of the border, where tensions between racialized communities and police are focusing attention on the demographic makeup of police departments across the United States.
Mariana Valverde, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, thinks a similar debate should take place here as part of the ongoing discussion around police reform and reining in the force’s $1 billion budget.
“Where you live and what you think of a good place to live, does have a bearing on how you do your job as a police officer,” she said, adding community relations would also improve. “We care more about people who live like us . . . it’s basic psychology.”
A person’s postal code is not as relevant for other jobs, she said. “If you’re a Crown attorney, it probably doesn’t matter where you live, because you’re more concerned about legal aspects of cases.”
Police residency is especially relevant now.
The police union, which has vigorously resisted scheduling changes in the past, agreed to discuss altering the current compressed shift schedule, which has front-line officers working longer shifts for longer time off. The police board believes it can reduce costs by changing the shift schedule.
Critics say the schedule is designed to facilitate officer commuting time and doesn’t allow police to be deployed at the times when they are needed most.
Changing the work hours — embedded in police contracts for more than 30 years — won’t be easy.
Police union leaders have said in that past that Toronto is “too expensive,” for many officers.
That argument doesn’t take into consideration that today’s police earn considerably more than the average Torontonian, or that police salary hikes are a key factor in the city’s ballooning budget and property tax increases.
Police brass have also defended the out-of-town workforce.
“I think you can be committed to a neighborhood, committed to community safety, do your job, and sleep somewhere else,” former police chief Bill Blair told the Star last year.
“People make lifestyle choices and they are entitled to make choices about where they want to raise their families and where they want to live.”
Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said the service is making significant strides to make the service more representative of the community.
And while being a Torontonian isn’t included in the Toronto Police Service recruiting criteria, “we’ve amended our idea of a perfect candidate to include a connection with the community they’re going to serve,” she said.
She likened it to the way being bilingual or multilingual or having experience working with vulnerable populations isn’t a requirement “but could certainly give you an advantage.”
The debate in the U.S.
In about two-thirds of U.S. cities with the largest police forces, the majority of police officers live outside city limits, according to the American Constitution Society.
Last month, the State Commonwealth Court ruled Pittsburgh police officers must live in the city, upholding a longtime city law. The police union has vowed its fight against the requirement isn’t over.
Six per cent of sworn Minneapolis Police Department officers live in the city, which has one of the lowest residency rates in the country. In the 1990s, the MPD had a residency requirement for new hires until it was rescinded in 1999.
Austin officials are developing monetary incentives to get hundreds of police officers living in suburban communities to become city residents.
New York City
You have to reside in New York City or one of the surrounding counties to work for the NYPD.
After last year’s riots in Baltimore, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said the relationship between the police and the community could improve if officers lived in the city. There is no residency requirement.