A new Emerson College poll found 40.7 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans say it is very important to them that a candidate has lived in Pennsylvania. Another 32 percent say it is somewhat important. The question of residency has been a major part of the criticism against Dr. Mehmet Oz’s campaign for the U.S. Senate, and it plays a significant role in attacks against Dave McCormick. Interestingly, the poll found voters age 18-29 had the greatest concern with a candidate’s residency.
I understand why voters might feel this way, given the honor of being our representative in Washington. But I still believe McCormick and maybe Oz can overcome this obstacle if they appear to be candidates who can win. I might be evaluating this through the lens of my opposition to residency requirements for police officers in places like Philadelphia.
I have always believed those requirements speak to a government intrusion into our lives that squelches the best and brightest from being attracted to a community. It certainly is a huge factor in stopping Philadelphia from attracting qualified people interested in becoming police officers in the city. In 2020, the Philadelphia City Council — reacting to the furor against police nationwide after the murder of George Floyd — restored a law that mandated a one-year residency requirement for cops prior to hiring.
I recently had the Philadelphia police captain in charge of recruiting new cops on my radio show, and he told me they had hundreds of potential candidates on their preliminary list. However, shortly after the end of the recruiting drive, only 14 people showed up for the first physical training session. Apparently, only 8 or 9 even finished the session. This pathetic situation is fueled by the #DefundThePolice movement in Philadelphia, media attacks on the police, etc. But many experts in the field cite the residency requirement as the main hurdle that has left the city without a large pool of qualified candidates.
Philadelphia City Councilor Cherelle Parker is one public figure who supports the residency requirement. She represents the council district that borders on mine, and she recently joined me on my radio show because she wants to recruit 300 more Philadelphia police officers that would solely be engaged in what she called “community policing” — cops that walk the beat.
She agrees communities across Philadelphia have reached a breaking point regarding homicides, carjacking, and overall violence. She wants police on the streets who see themselves as “guardians” rather than “warriors.”
Parker argues that, if we need it, there is a civil service requirement that would allow massive exceptions to the residency requirement. But she also said, “It makes good economic sense for the city of Philadelphia for people who are being paid by the city of Philadelphia to own a home in the city of Philadelphia.”
That may be true. But isn’t the responsibility of elected officials to make Philadelphia an attractive place where people want to live, rather than passing laws making it a place people who want city jobs are forced to live?
John McNesby, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, told me recently that under Police Commissioner Ramsay — and without the residency requirement — Philadelphia was able to recruit a great pool of great candidates from the military nationwide. It also recruited recent college graduates, including many from historically Black colleges, to fulfill the goal of getting more educated and diverse candidates.
The evidence is clear: If Philadelphia is going to have the police force we need for public safety, we must do the things that make it a destination area to live and work, rather than a city that has to force its police to embrace it.