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Philadelphia lifts residency requirement for police and correctional officers amid staffing shortages

The rule requiring police recruits to live in the city for at least a year before applying was passed by Council in 2020 and touted as a reform measure that would diversify the police force.

Philadelphia Police recruits stand at attention before being addressed by Commissioner Danielle Outlaw last summer. The city this week lifted a requirement that recruits live in the city for at least a year before applying.
Philadelphia Police recruits stand at attention before being addressed by Commissioner Danielle Outlaw last summer. The city this week lifted a requirement that recruits live in the city for at least a year before applying.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia has lifted a rule that requires police recruits to live in the city for a year before applying, ending a practice that took effect in 2020 and was aimed at diversifying the ranks.

The change also applies to correctional officers and comes as both the Police Department and the city jails are facing critical staffing shortages.

The police force is authorized to have 6,380 officers on its payroll, but it’s struggled to fill about 400 vacancies, and more than 500 officers are off duty on injury claims. The Prisons Department is down hundreds of correctional officers, who have quit their jobs in droves amid what some called a safety crisis inside the jails.

Mayor Jim Kenney this week asked the city’s Civil Service Commission to exempt police recruits and correctional officers from having to meet the one-year residency requirement, citing challenges in attracting and retaining both.

He said last week during a briefing on the city’s response to gun violence that the requirement has kept the department from being able to “recruit around the country to get the best and the brightest.”

“It’s basically like saying you can only play for the Phillies if you grew up in Philadelphia,” he said. “It’s not the normal situation around the country.”

Residency requirements are not unique, but Philadelphia’s rule mandating that nearly all potential employees live in the city for a year before being hired is among the strictest nationwide.

» READ MORE: Police in Philly and beyond are struggling with a shortage of police recruits and a surge in retirements

It took effect in 2020, weeks after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a nationwide reckoning over race and policing. Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker championed the legislation, which they said would “create a force that better reflects the culture of the city it is sworn to protect and serve.”

The bill passed Council 16-1, with district Councilmember Brian J. O’Neill, a Republican, the only one to vote against it. Kenney didn’t sign the legislation and it lapsed into law.

Clarke said in a statement Thursday that Council still “strongly supports the one-year residency requirement” as a means of diversifying the force, which is about 55% white. About two-thirds of Philadelphia residents are people of color.

“The idea that the city cannot recruit from within and find a ready, willing, and able pool of police recruits is a slap in the face of the quality of our education system that we should refuse to accept,” Clarke said. “If we are having difficulty finding qualified job applicants, the onus should be on us to better educate our residents.”

Parker, now considered a likely 2023 mayoral candidate, said Thursday she would “wait to see how this conversation plays out, but ultimately the goal needs to be finding ways for more police officers to be walking the streets.” She said last week that while the city is legally allowed to waive the residency requirement, blaming the provision for the department’s recruitment woes is a “red herring.”

The true impact the rule has had on recruitment is unclear. Police departments across the country have reported similar staffing shortages after a record number of resignations and retirements over the last two years.

Some police brass and union leaders say interest in becoming an officer has declined following protests over police use of force and a perceived lack of support from elected officials. John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said in a statement that the union that represents city officers opposed the residency requirement “from the beginning.”

“Clearly, our political leadership felt otherwise,” he said. “And now during a violent-crime crisis, we’re lifting the residency requirement, which we hope will help the Police Department in its recruitment efforts.”

New police officers who live outside the city when they are hired now have a year to move to Philadelphia. Those who serve for more than five years may also move outside the city.

Staff writer Ellie Rushing contributed to this article.