Live-in cops

July 19, 1994

Far too many Baltimore police officers live outside the city. This shouldn't really matter, but it seemingly does. A city taxpayer is justified in becoming irate when an officer living in the suburbs shrugs off a complaint by saying, "What do you expect in this neighborhood?" or "If you don't like these things, move out."

Some cities combat this kind of unsympathetic behavior by subsidizing officers' rents or securing favorable financing for their home purchase. They reason that every police officer who lives within the city limits takes a keen interest in his or her neighborhood, making a special effort to curb crime and vandalism.

This is a concept that ought to be tried in Baltimore as well. Local banks should take the initiative and pitch in enough money for a pro bono pilot program that would help police officers buying a home in Baltimore City to defray some of the high closing costs. The city itself could help by forgoing its portion of the closing costs.

Meanwhile, the city administration ought to make sure all new and veteran police officers are briefed about the many existing programs that make homeownership in the city an attractive proposition. For instance, apartments in several cooperative buildings are available for a very modest outlay.

These measures would be an appropriate follow-up to a new program under which the federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has authorized up to 20 city and Housing Authority police officers to move to rent-subsidized public housing all over the city.

Baltimore's program was advertised with simple notices on police station bulletin boards two months ago. "We got more responses than we expected," said Hezekiah Bunch, chief of the city's Housing Authority police force.

Among those interested was Housing Authority Officer Wallace Sampson, who plans to move into a low-rise building in East Baltimore with his wife and four children, ages 10, 9, 8 and 3. Their monthly $115 rent will represent a substantial cut from the nearly $500 they pay now, enabling the family to stretch its budget.

Another Housing Authority officer is planning to move into a unit nearby and Officer Sampson talks about starting "a little youth organization, because if we start out with the kids at that young age, they'll come to us instead of going out and doing something crazy."

This kind of attitude makes a compelling argument for both businesses and the government to promote subsidized housing in the city for police officers.

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