Why It's Good That Mayor Mike McGinn Can't Force Seattle Cops to Live in Seattle

seattle_police.jpg
Mayor Mike McGinn thinks more Seattle cops should live in Seattle. "It's hard to have a good local police force if the police aren't local," he said during Tuesday's State of the City speech. Whether that's right, wrong, or something in between is a debate for another time. But it's hard to argue with this: It's a good thing McGinn isn't allowed to tell cops where they can and can't live.

During my stay in Nashville, the city council passed a law saying that all metro employees had to live inside county lines. On its face, it seemed like a reasonable proposition: If you take money from the pot, you have to ante up.

But my editor at the time saw past that veil of reason. A former resident of many crumbling Rust Belt cities, he was no stranger to work-here-live-here laws, and could see them for what they really were: acts of desperation.

To paraphrase his argument, cops, as a rule, tend to see the worst of humanity. They also tend to breed above and beyond the standards of a nuclear family. Which is why they often choose to live far away from the places they patrol: because the outer boroughs are not only cheaper, they generally have less crime and better public schools.

So what happens when employees are forced by law to live where they work? Here I won't just paraphrase, I'll steal an entire chunk of logic.

In other cities, residency rules have made for expensive cat and mouse games, pitting government against its employees. Workers will use apartments or the addresses of relatives to bypass the rule. The government, in turn, will discover widespread abuse, and begin spying on its own employees. Lawsuits, firings, and bad blood will spill.

As the triangulated tension among the mayor's office, Seattle cops, and the citizens both are sworn to serve has increased in the past six months, ever since Native American wood-carver John T. Williams was shot to death, so too has it been made clear that there is no bad blood left to spill. The city is just about tapped out.

Which is why it's a good thing that McGinn isn't legally allowed to get his wish. As he alluded to later in his speech, state law prohibits him from enforcing a residency rule. So his only hope for more Seattle cops from Seattle is to convince the police force to "recruit officers from the community who understand our community and its values."

The question: Given the way that community feels about its officers, does McGinn understand that right now might not be the easiest time to recruit?

Follow The Daily Weekly on Facebook and Twitter.

 
comments powered by Disqus