Testifying this afternoon before the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka vigorously argued for stronger and more effective public safety strategies, including the passage Assembly Bill 3386 sponsored by Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27).
The bill would permit municipal, county, and regional police and fire forces to establish five-year residency requirement for police officers and firefighters; and allows exceptions to requirement under certain circumstances.
“People are being killed,”” said Baraka, a lonngtime advocate of versions of the same legislation, who stepped up his efforts in the aftermath of the Minnesota in-police-custody killing of George Floyd. “Most of our residents want police officers. What they don’t want are their children shot to death for playing with water pistols or choked to death for selling cigarettes.”
Assembly Bill 3386 would permit a municipality to adopt an ordinance prohibiting an applicant from obtaining employment with the municipal police department, paid fire department, or part-paid fire department unless the applicant agrees to remain a resident of the municipality for the first five years of employment. Under this bill, county and regional police and fire forces would also have the power to institute a residency requirement. In any municipality with such an ordinance, the applicant would have six months from the date the applicant begins their official duties, following all requisite training, to relocate to the municipality, county, or region served by the force.
“Residency requirements create a greater social symmetry between employees and residents,” said Baraka. “Public servants contribute to the local tax base… and represent communty interests in their agencies.” Newark has a police force composed of 70% black and brown officers, said Baraka. But required residency would help, not only in his city, but everywhere, he argued.
Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28), a member of the Law and Public Safety Committee and a fellow resident of Newark, said the establishment frequently waters down the legislation he furnishes.
“We cannot allow Trenton to modify justice for people of color,” said Rice.
A former Newark Police detective, he lingered on the residency issue.
“White police officers used to live in the city,” said the veteran senator. “Senator [Joe] Cryan can tell you, his father was the sheriff off Essex County. …Police unions don’t want cops to live in cities, which doesn’t make any sense to me when we’re talking about perspective. There are a handful of people who are standing in the way of us getting this right.”