Residency waiver draws fire

May 26, 1994|By Melody Simmons and Norris P. West | Melody Simmons and Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writers Staff writer Joanna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Baltimore's newest police officers won't have to live in the city, and that's good news for many of them -- but their good fortune has drawn the ire of some city employees who still must abide by a residency requirement.

"This is America. You're supposed to be able to live where you want and work where you want," Charles L. Green said yesterday as he collected trash in West Baltimore, a job he's done for 28 years. "If you give the waiver to one, you should give it to others."

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said Tuesday that he was suspending the residency policy for police officers because he faced competition for recruits from neighboring counties and feared losing some officers who refuse to move to the city. The department also faces a shortage of 130 officers this summer because of retirements, according to a police spokesman.

Under Mr. Frazier's ruling, about 240 rookie officers hired in the last year are exempt from the policy and other new officers may be also in coming months if he decides to scrap the policy.

Mr. Frazier's decision runs counter to a decree from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that municipal workers hired after July 1, 1993, must be Baltimore residents or agree to move into the city within one year of their employment.

In several police districts yesterday, officers and supervisors -- including many who do not live in Baltimore -- endorsed the decision.

"I didn't think [the requirement] was fair," said Officer Raygina Cooper-McLamb, who lives in Harford County and works out of the Northeast District. She said dropping the residency requirement opens opportunities to a "more diverse pool of applicants."

Officer Cooper-McLamb said she couldn't think of a good reason to live in the city. She is unaffected by the residency requirement because she joined the force three years ago.

"Look at the news -- people are vandalizing your property and if you dress your kids nice and they go to school, they get beaten up," she said. "I still like to go home and not worry about my child being hit by a stray bullet."

Robert Leonard, a 20-year veteran assigned to Eastern District, said many police applicants do not want to live in the city because of "the violence."

"They are going after more qualified [police candidates] with college degrees and military experience and those people don't want to be told where to live," Officer Leonard said.

Shortly after Mr. Schmoke implemented the city policy, then-police commissioner Edward V. Woods is sued a similar one for the department. Baltimore's police commissioner serves at the pleasure of the mayor, but the department is a state agency and cannot be regulated by the city.

The residency requirement remains in effect for city workers, though. And it remained unpopular with some workers yesterday as they pondered Mr. Frazier's decision.

Melvin L. Johnson, a 28-year Public Works Department veteran, said: "It bothers me that other people can tell me where I can live."

Some opponents of the policy denounce it as a veiled affirmative action plan. But the mayor has defended it as a way to stabilize working class neighborhoods and add $4.8 million to the city's tax base.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke said Mr. Frazier should reinstate the residency requirement.

"We had no warning that this was being considered," said Mrs. Clarke, adding that the commissioner did not discuss the issue with council members. "There was no warning that this was a problem of significance."

She predicted that the commissioner would face wide opposition from the community. She called for him to "retract this hasty action until we have a chance to review this matter completely."

The president of the City Union of Baltimore, which represents 7,000 municipal workers, also favors keeping the residency requirement.

Union president Cheryl Glenn said the policy is aimed at strengthening the city.

"We've seen an erosion in our city that will continue when money is paid to city workers and taken out of the city," she said. "If you're going to work for the city of Baltimore, there ought to be some give-back.

"That's what makes the city work. If all the middle-class people move out of the city, all you have left is a hodgepodge of low-income residents and very wealthy people."

Ms. Glenn said it would make sense to allow some leeway to hire rookie teachers or police officers from outside the city and give them a year or two to settle in Baltimore.

William V. Taylor, president of the Baltimore Firefighters Local 734, disagreed.

"We're all state of Maryland residents," he said. "When you limit yourself to a certain geographical area, it limits your opportunities. We would hope the mayor would realize this is the way to go and lift his executive order."

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