Opinion

South Seattle Cop Responds to Mayor’s Suggestion That Cops Live Local

by South Seattle Cop

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn recently said that more police should live in the city – an idea I’ve heard thrown around since I was a kid. What I have learned is this:

  • Teachers don’t teach better because they live near the school. They either have a passion for teaching or they don’t.
  • Firefighters don’t fight fire and render medical aid any better based on how far they commute to work.
  • Water department doesn’t pump out a flooded street better because he/she woke up that morning within the city limits.

The same goes for police.

Like anyone else in a job like this: We do what we do because we were meant to do it, and doing it well gives us satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

I spend at least half my waking hours in the ‘hood I patrol, often more. In a typical 24-hour period, I spend as much time here as most of the residents of the ‘hood who work in another part of town. I have always worked here. I feel as plugged-in to the south end as anyone here… more than some.

However, I would NOT want my neighborhood officers where I am to live in the immediate area. That opens up the possibility (or perception of) favoritism towards familiar neighbors and loss of objectivity. Also, officers living in their patrol areas are easy targets for threats and intimidation from criminals.

Think of this: How would you feel if you knew the officer investigating a crime for you lived nearby, and the dirtbag you just identified as the perpetrator knew that too? I would be concerned…

Officers living in the areas where they work are usually mediocre/low performers, and very non-proactive officers. Not go-getters. I can’t point to proof of cause and effect, but I have my suspicions as to why that is.

That’s not who I want prowling up and down my street while I sleep.

And like teachers, firefighters, librarians, and others, cops want to live where they can get the most house for their buck. And usually that is not within the city proper. It does not make them care any less about what they do, or somehow detached from the mysterious tribe known as “seattlites”. It does help them be unafraid to arrest whoever needs arresting, however.

In fact, a lot of your friendly neighborhood South Precinct officers live over in West Seattle.

15 comments on “South Seattle Cop Responds to Mayor’s Suggestion That Cops Live Local

  1. Wait, I’m a little confused—so cops and other public servants will do their jobs the same regardless of where they live, yet cops that are locals are “medicore/low performers”? You start out saying the former but then close claiming the latter. Is it really okay to denigrate police officers who DO happen to be local? Because that sure seems to be what a statement like “That’s not who I want prowling up and down my street while I sleep.” does.

    Really, either way, without any data to back up the arguments (either McGinn’s or SSC’s) it seems like the discussion is largely pointless.

  2. As long as cops are effective they can live anywhere. We pay cops for the job to serve and protect.

  3. I agree that you don’t need to live in Seattle to be a good SPD cop. However, it still makes sense for cops and other city employees live in the city because it helps support Seattle’s economy. If Seattle tax payers pay your salary I think it’s fair for them to ask you to live in the city; if you live here you spend your money here and you pay taxes here.

  4. @Kelly,
    but then we have to actually pay them a wage that allows the to be able to afford to live here.

  5. Although I agree that people should live and work where they choose or live where their buck gives them the most house, I think Seattle Cop is off the mark here. With an attitude like this, I am not sure I would be more comfortable knowing that you are the kind of cop “who I want prowling up and down my street while I sleep”.
    I take issue with your assertion that you “do what we do because we were meant to do it”, really? So cops who beat up citizens or shoot innocent wood carvers like John Williams do it because “they are meant to do it”?
    As had already been mentioned, you go on to denigrate your fellow officers who choose to work where they live. That doesn’t sound like you have a lot of respect for your fellow officers either or, would you please tell us why an officer choosing to live and work in the same area makes him/her a “low performer and a no-getter”? Back in the day, everyone knew their “beat officer” and I can venture to say crime and incidences of police violence were a lot less than they are now. Most people then had respect for their police officers and the officers had a respect for the citizens who in some cases were their next door neighbors. If little Johnny was caught pilfering fruit from Mr Smith’s yard, the police officer “walked him to his parents for some good telling off or a pinch on the ear” and then little Johnny had to go back to Mr. Smith to apologize and do a little “community service” by picking up rotten fruits off Mr Smith’s yard and feed it to the pigs and that was the end of it. Nowadays, with cops, especially in Seattle not living in the neighborhoods they work in, they don’t have a sense of community or belonging to the neighborhood. To them its just a job and it shows in the way they relate to people.

    While I do not have any statistics to back me up, I would say that this issue is more or less a Seattle issue. Cops in small towns and cities do live and work in the same cities and in some cases, the local police officer is your local council member, local school principal or even local pastor. I don’t recall reading anywhere where it says crime investigations in these small towns are hampered by the fact that cops live in the same small town.

    So once again, while I appreciate and respect you for what you do, South Seattle Cop, on this one, you are off the mark and I have to say, rather reluctantly that I agree with the mayor on this one. This might be the only thing I could say that about our mayor, but that’s for another day!

  6. I am not really buying this argument, although I generally agree with the conclusion.

    @Peter – I think you are misinterpreting his statements. I’m pretty sure SSC just means that police have a passion/mission to “protect and serve,” independent of locale.

    But I disagree for starters with the assertions about workers being local. In the case of teachers, I like running into my kids’ teachers at the store or whatever, and I think it means a lot when the teacher has a community relationship with the child (at the very least, the kid knows that the teacher will tell me when he/she gets out of line!). In the case of the fire department, yes, they do just fine regardless of where they live, but I would think that if I knew the firefighter, that might lessen the anxiety when they are called to respond.

    So to the police. This is a bit of a different egg to crack because as law enforcement, police are by definition representative of the law (more accurately, the force of law). In that capacity, I would argue that indeed, being part of the community in which that role is performed, it is difficult to maintain the perception of fairness required by the position.

    Especially in larger cities like Seattle, where the police are often thought of as the ‘enemy’ (using that term loosely – simply meaning at odds), I can appreciate the awkwardness of having to be law enforcement when there is an existing social connection. But that could also be simply an effect of NOT having local officers.

    As far as policy, however, I just think the government always wants too much. This isn’t the military; the choice of where to live should not be dictated by anyone. There are many factors involved in choosing a place to live, and where I work is low on my list. But to force Seattle police to live in Seattle means that officers are forced to ignore any other consideration (like our fabulous Seattle Schools, or maybe the desire for a back yard). On the other hand, by restricting the pool from which officers are selected based on the criteria of where they live, the city is probably limiting the quality of its workforce. Instead of the best and brightest, we get the “local” best and brightest. So both the officers and the city become limited – lose/lose if you ask me.

    SSC – you have done a great job informing us on what we don’t understand about the ‘hood: I certainly consider myself better informed on how police perceive what goes on, as well as what is going through the mind of perpetrators. And to some extent I agree with your conclusion – I just don’t agree with the argument that got you there.

  7. Would I want a cop living on my block?

    Depends on the cop. Most of the police I know are fine people, I would not have a problem with any of them living down the street, so long as they left the job at the office.

    Most of the cops I know don’t advertise where they live, since they want to have private lives. People with public professions do need privacy, as much as the rest of us do. That would seem to apply to cops who live in the city or in the burbs.

    Would the city be better served by police who live in Seattle? It depends on the cop. Should residency be a priority for recruitment?

    The union has filed a demand for state mediation in talks with the mayor’s office:

    http://www.seattlepi.com/local/436915_police11.html

    Maybe the residency question will come up, but I can’t see how you can legally require city residency as a condition of employment.

  8. I made an error for which I will apologize for here:

    In the line “…usually mediocre/low performers” I was tying too quickly, and failed for proof read what I wrote closely enough. The line was intended and should hve read “…usually percieved as mediocre/low performers”.

    My typing skills strike again. My apologies.

    If I was unclear in my comments, my underlying message was that living inside or outside the city proper does not make an officer better at what they do, although is is a frequent straw-man argument that politicians have used for decades. And from a citizens point of view, having an officer respond to you who works in your area everyday is no doubt ideal, but having them live in the immediate nieghborhood can be undesirable for both the officer and the citizen/complainant/victim for a variety of reasons. I should have better separated the two ideas (living in the city vs. living in the patrolled area) in the comments.

    My typing gets sloppy when I get wound up (as we have seen before) and McGinn never fails to accomplish that reaction in me. :-)

  9. One of the things I found striking about the Mayor’s comments on this topic were that he wanted officers to live in the city (he picked a Chief Of Police who lives in Issaquah, when two of the other top ranking chiefs already live in Seattle) because he said it would help, “…them understand us.”

    Them? Us?

    So the Mayor sees the police department in an us vs. them light, with the “them” being the police officers.

    That is an interesting position to take for a Mayor who claims he is trying to help fix the perception issues between portions of the public and the PD. On the one hand he says he wants to help improve things, while in the same breath driving trying to drive as big a wedge as he can between the PD and the citizens by saying it’s us vs. them. (perhaps he’d like to be seen as leading “us” in the fight against “them”)

    At first I thought it would be interesting to hear how a supposed leader of the community would try and justify promoting that kind of a divisive message. But then I realized that the backpedalling and sidestepping would just be canned answers I have heard many times before.

  10. ” I was tying too quickly, and failed for proof read what I wrote closely enough. ”

    Que?
    You know I had to.

  11. Kelly The economic argument is certainly a valid one.

    Although the city population roughly triples or quadruples during daytime business hours from the approximately 608,660 permanent residents. My guess would be that overall city-wide, the commuting population that works in the city during the day is providing a substantial portion of the revenues to businesses during the day, which returns to the city in the form of business taxes (city does not collect an income tax, and property taxes are collected by the county).

    Of course I have no idea how that compares to revenues from residents, so…I may just be babbling again.

    But I understand your argument, and don’t necessarily disagree with it.

  12. MarkB Ha! Yes, if nothing else, at least I provide an easy target. :p

    See you in typing class!

  13. I don’t think the Mayor was saying if you work in the South Precinct you need to live in the South Precinct – just in the city. On the other hand, I think it does make a difference if the people you work with are the people you see in your neighborhood – and that goes for teachers, grocery store clerks, dentists, and office workers. I love seeing my coworkers in my neighborhood. And I think it makes us closer, gives us more to bond over, and ultimately creates a good working and living environment.

    And, I think police can afford to live in Seattle.

  14. If you have never lived around, gone to school with, or eaten with the population you police you are less able to understand them. People are different and differ widely based on region, culture, and expirence I personally don’t want any cop from a rural socially, culturally and politically different community policing my neighborhood because of the increased potential for bias. I know not everyone will not be bad but I shouldn’t have to take that risk.
    I witnesses a car accident and got yelled at by some idiot cop because I wouldn’t talk in front of the crackhead that caused the accident. He didn’t understand in anyway that I would be risking my life by telling on someone right in front of them. I know it would be scary living down here and arresting people but you ask us to do the same thing by “snitching” yet we aren’t trained and given guns by the city. I even think “stop snitching” could be helped if you knew the police from something other than checking your pockets when you walk down the street.

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