Seattle cops don’t live in Seattle

Data-driven news blog FiveThirtyEight reports that only 12% of Seattle’s police force calls the city home ranking it among the worst big cities in America for the measure. You’ll note that the department’s black officers are much more likely to call the city home:

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In light of the continuing protests in Ferguson, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver discusses the significance of where police officers live:

In Ferguson, Missouri, where protests continue following the shooting of a teenager by a police officer this month, more than two-thirds of the civilian population is black. Only 11 percent of the police force is. The racial disparity is troubling enough on its own, but it’s also suggestive of another type of misrepresentation. Given Ferguson’s racial gap, it’s likely that many of its police officers live outside city limits.

If so, Ferguson would have something in common with most major American cities. In about two-thirds of the U.S. cities with the largest police forces, the majority of police officers commute to work from another town.

In 2011, I helped create this map for SeattleCrime.com showing where Seattle Police officers call home around the region:

At the time, the McGinn administration was floating ideas around residency requirements for SPD officers. In the continued fallout from Ferguson, it will be interesting to see if the push is renewed.

UPDATE: Here’s a note we received from an East Precinct officer who has asked to remain anonymous:

A lot more officers than 12% live in the city. Many of us, including myself, use an address of relatives or a PO Box to receive our mail and city correspondence. As far as mandating where an officer lives, that has been ruled illegal . An employer can’t force that issue in Washington.

The officer says that on his squad of seven, four officers live in the city — but only one lists a local mailing address.

47 thoughts on “Seattle cops don’t live in Seattle

  1. There’s also the consideration that a cop can’t afford to live in Seattle.
    So, is Seattle willing to pay cops wages that allow them to afford to be able to live in Seattle? Doubtful. Even if willing, is Seattle ABLE to do so?

    • Average SPD officer is pulling in over $115k a year (that’s including OT) Avg $103k+ without OT.

      Even a fresh out of the academy SPD officers makes $69k (before OT), with significant bumps up after 6 months & 18 months on the force.

      SPD officers CAN afford to live in Seattle. They just choose not to.

    • I’m still at a loss here. Black or white, why can’t people live where they want to live? If the police office makes it to work on time, what does it matter how long their commute was?

      • Because police need to share the values of the community they work in; if they don’t, they won’t be that effective. The cultural disconnect between the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department has been a constant source of friction that has limited the SPD’s effectiveness. The only solution is for the SPD to bring itself into accord with Seattle’s expectations and values; having more officers live in the city would go a long way towards that end.

        • Living in Seattle does not necessarily mean that officers would share the values of the community. A person’s value system is very complex, and must of it is determined early in life, from childhood through early adulthood.

      • It’s like with the Rodney King beatings; so many of those cops lived in Simi Valley; which was this weird bastion of white, conservative stepford wives repression. One of the subtexts of that case was that the cops had developed a mentality of “leaving their fort each day to do battle with THEM on THEIR turf” rather than thinking of the citizens of the areas they patrolled as their neighbors…

        That said, I think requiring cops to live within their beat communities would have a limited impact at best; there are tons of other, better ways to ensure your police officers are respected and viewed positively by the community. I think the reason people responded to well in Ferguson to Captain Ron Johnson wasn’t because he was black and from the area (though that helped), it was because he was directly engaging the people and actively listening to them.

      • Washington becomes North Carolina quickly once you get out of the city. In fact it may be even more racist than the South, since most of these rural WA cops have little contact with minorities except for picking fruit and gardening.

        WA was the only state to vote for an evangelical for president, was the center of the Aryan Nations for decades, and Mark Furhmann lives and is celebrated in Idaho. These communites talk under their breath about other races, let alone about homosexuals.

        The SPD are angels compared to the KC and Metro police who come from yokelville. It was the KC nutcases who went mustang down Broadwat miles from the WTO in ’99. It was the Metro hero who tackled and KILLED a white guy by bashing his head into the Cinerama. Something is deeply wrong with all authority and elites in America, and they can have things the easy way or the hard way, because too many people in this country understand what freedom really is, so good luck knuckling everyone under, or distracting them with football and tv.

        Military vets should be banned from becoming officers. They are two different jobs.

        MInority representation on police forces should be MANDATED, not optional.

  2. If I had to commute back and forth to Seattle from the Peninsula or Cle Elum, I’d be about ready to shoot a homeless woodcarver by the time I got to work too.

  3. The “homeless woodcarver” that savagely punched a homeless woman in the face repeatedly while screaming, “Don’t touch my beer! Don’t ever f*ck’n touch my beer!”, that one?

    I’m actually a bit surprised the Ferguson “Day of Rage” scheduled today isn’t starting on the Hill rather than QA.

  4. So let me pose this question. I’m not pro or con. Should a city police officer be REQUIRED to live in the city that they patrol? I mean, wouldn’t it make sense that a cop would have “more skin in the game” if they were patrolling the very neighborhood (or least closeby neighborhoods) where they live? I mean, does the proverbial officer living in Issaquah really know what it’s like in Ballard or the CD? Does suburban living insulate an officer from urban realities? Just a thought. Fire away.

    • ..”Should a city police officer be REQUIRED to live in the city that they patrol?”…

      No. The “skin in the game” ploy, was a fake argument when it was originally proposed years ago. Are ALL your neighbors that live here and have skin in the game, courteous to you. No. There are many neighbors that SUCK. People are people.

    • While I think that we should encourage cops to live in the neighborhoods they patrol, it shouldn’t be required. People respond negatively to mandates, but they respond positively to incentives. The city should work towards creating incentives that would make officers want to live near where they work. I’m not familiar to the issue enough to offer what those incentives should be, but interviewing officers about why they choose to live in the suburbs while working for the Seattle Police should generate some ideas.

  5. I think that incentives are a very interesting idea. Mandates, I’m not so sure about.

    I’ve heard officers say that one of the reasons for not living in the neighborhoods that they work in is a concern about running into people that they’ve arrested or had confrontations with while off duty or w/ family and friends. That seems to me legitimate. No matter how community oriented or woven into the fabric of daily neighborhood life an officer is ( a positive, IMO) there will be people in any community who have had adverse relationships w/ officers. I think that this is one of the issues to be sussed out in the discussion. And it’s a good discussion to have…

  6. Ok, this is a bit awkward but I felt compelled to post. I am an Officer at the East Precinct. I have chosen to live in the city. I did this for a number of reasons.

    1) I like it
    2) it’s close to work
    3) I was able to find a relatively affordable place to live
    4) it’s close to friends and family

    I hear the arguement about forcing Officers to live on their beats a lot. I can understand how one can draw that line. However, understanding where one is coming from does not mean they are right. The ‘sharing values’ argument sounds good but is simply a bad arguement. We as a community have drafted rules. We as a community have decided that some of those rules are important enough to our safety and quality of life that we made them crimes. We hire human beings to enforce those rules. The humans we hire come from every different background you could imagine. Rich, poor, black, white, asian, gay, straight, law degrees, military, etc…. To think that there is just one set of ‘Seattle values’ is insulting to not just the human beings that have been hired, but is insulting to natives to the city like myself. The people that have been hired have a thousand different opinions, just like everyone else. The values they are charged with upholding are written by the State and City Council. Its way to simple to say ‘shared values.’ I’ve lived within the city for most of my life, and I can tell you my opinions and values are not shaped by where I lay my head or go out to eat.

    On a different note the person who decides to be a Seattle Officer applies, goes through a rigorous written test, psych test, polygraph test, physical, background investigation, and oral board. The individual signs up to work as a police officer within the city, not their family. If someone wants a little rambler in Kent or Auburn, then fine, its affordable. Noone, to include their employer, has the right to tell them where to live. It also does not make them any better, or worse at doing their job. As for myself I live where I work. The streets of the East Precinct are my office. Every work day I’m in constant contact with the public, driving the streets, taking reports, arresting people, giving warnings, writing tickets, assisting with medical issues, all the things that go along with being a city cop. In my off time I’m on those same streets. Does it get stressful or annoying at times because it feels like I never ever leave work? Absolutely. Do I ever think about buying a little house somewhere else just to be able to feel like I leave work. All the time. Do I run into people i’ve had contact with while working? It happens every single week. Most of the time it’s ok, the times it isn’t are dangerous and can be unforgiving. Who wants to be walking down the sidewalk stuffing their face with Molly Moon’s only to be confronted by the guy you arrested for robbery three days before? It sucks, and its very hard to relax. So if an Officer wants to live elsewhere I get it. On top of those reasons, Seattle is simply expensive. Regardless on how well one is paid, its expensive. A 20 minute drive north or south gets someone a lot more for their money. I can’t fault people for doing it.

    Bottom line is that human beings are hired to be Officers. It is completly up to them where they live, what values to hold, and how they spend their off time. Noone should be assigned thoughts.

    • It’s nice to know some police of Capitol Hill read the Capitol Hill Blog :) While a small sample size, it gives you an opportunity to hear what people are voicing.

      I imagine it must be tiring to feel like you’re always on the clock. Thanks for all your hard work.

    • Thanks for the great post, and I appreciate all the other replies to my philosophical question about where officers should or shouldn’t live. I do have one small quibble, and I know this is going way off topic, and I apologize in advance. Polygraph tests are complete bunk. Study after study have shown nervous honest people fail them, and professional liars beat them. That pseudo-scientific equipment needs to go the way of phrenology and astrology, seriously. Anyway, thank you for your service!

  7. I think it should be a requirement. If a person wants to be a senator for Washington, she or he has to live in Washington. If I wanted to take McDermott’s congressional seat, I can’t live in Spokane. I want the people that I pay to police me to be from Seattle.

    I think it is very relevant where they live. It’s not feasible to commute from the hills of west Virginia to seattle, but imagine teleporting making it possible. Do I want some hillbilly with a badge and a gun telling me what to do? No.

    • You relating police to elected officials is the most absurd comparison I’ve read in awhile. There is a huge difference between those who are hired to enforce laws and those who are elected to draft legislation and and champion the needs of their respective area to a greater body.

      • one guy enforces the law, one guy drafts the law. Seems pretty related to me. Both are public servants. Both represent a geo. I think my comparison holds up. I’ve come across some astonishing hicks outside of seattle. The thought that any of those could be hired to police me is a little worrisome.

    • Ironically, the constitution only requires that you be a resident of the state you want to represent to qualify for a seat in congress. You don’t have to live in the district. So actually you could run for McDermott’s seat from Spokane.

  8. I don’t think they should require police officers to live in Seattle. However, I DO think that part of their ongoing education is to be VERY familiar with the communities they patrol by being actively involved (outside of work) for a mandatory number of hours per quarter. This does NOT include attending street festivals or community fun days. This means being a part of the community and being present. Understanding the code and increasing trust.

    Requiring a police officer to live in Seattle does not necessarily mean that they will be living in areas where there is concentrated crime and have a higher understanding of what is going on, the people nor their issues.
    An officer could find a nice quiet area to live in let’s say Greenlake area but regularly patrols the Rainier Valley. How is that going to help?!
    I have much respect for our officers. Having a stressful job for 10-12 hrs a day (mandatory OT), trying to balance family, friends, loved ones is not easy.
    Continue to let our officers CHOOSE where they want to live. Educate them better to the areas in which they patrol and perhaps that will help facilitate better communication.

  9. Three of the top four “non-Seattle” places where SPD officers hail from have a higher percentage black population than Seattle’s 7.9 percent (Tacoma – 11.2, Kent – 11.3, Renton – 10.6). Two of them (Tacoma – $50,000 and Kent – $58,000) have a lower median income than Seattle’s $63,000 if you want to go by that measure.

    Having a police force that is closely tied to its community is a worthy goal for the myriad reasons that have been mentioned, but the caricature of posh white Sammamish officers policing the mean streets of Seattle based on officers’ residences is a silly oversimplification of a complex issue. As is the idea of Seattle having exceptional “values” that aren’t shared by people two towns over. And I say that as someone who is appalled at the current state of SPD and an outspoken critic of the agency’s use of force in recent years.

  10. Yep, they should be required to live in the city. And get back to community policing. Get out of your car, walk the area you’re protecting sometimes, interact with the community. The point is when you live in the city you patrol, you have a better sense of what’s going on and what the community needs. You understand the crime patterns, bad spots, you get to know businesses and the citizens better and not rely on statistics to make your judgement. That way they can experience what the average citizens does, even better when they’re off duty and out of uniform. I’ve said this a million times. Even the police chief like the mayor, you need to live in the city you run. Not like that last chief hightailing it to Issaquah every night. It’s the type of job they do where they need to be where they serve the people they work for. It’s that simple.

    • If we had community policing that worked, I don’t think we’d care where the officers’ off-hours were spent. Hutch’s post right above yours is probably relevant.

      If I understand correctly, the US historically moved away from officers who grew up in and lived in the communities they policed because they were more likely to belong to a faction or in-group and we worried about their objectivity, if not outright corruption (this was major in Prohibition). Maybe we’d rather have officers who were on foot, and talking to people, but *not* at home.

  11. A couple of conflicting concerns:

    1.) I can well understand a police officer’s desire to protect his/her family’s safety by residing outside of the neighborhood (not necessarily the city itself) and can, therefore, well understand those officers who do live in Seattle utilizing a different mailing address. That simply makes good sense.

    2.) That said, policing has changed markedly through the years. No longer do we have the neighborhood cop who walks a certain beat and whom everyone knows by sight and name. The aim of policing used to be “to serve and protect” whereas now, the emphasis is placed on “law enforcement.” These two italicized terms are not necessarily synonymous. I don’t know if I have properly expressed my thoughts as I am certainly not anti-police. I’m simply conflicted, as I stated initially, with the emphasis now on a show of force as opposed to reasonable remedies in policing. In essence, I don’t think there is any such thing as a neighborhood cop any longer so, it really doesn’t matter where they live.

  12. In the “Update,” an officer says that many more than 12% live in the city, but many of these use a PO address, or that of a relative in another town. Why is this? Added safety for themselves and their family? It should be easy to determine the real percentage of officers living in the city, and not relying on their mailing address.

  13. If integration and common values are the goals — rather than forcing people to live somewhere, I wonder if we might get much further if we made cops just get out of their patrol cars. You can’t understand a neighborhood from behind a windshield.

  14. Sure get em out of the cars. Then you will complain about their slow response time since they will have to run back to their patrol vehicle to respond. Others will complain that they are taking up parking spaces and the list goes on. Foot beats are not practical or conducive to rapid deployment of police resources.

  15. Pingback: What We’re Reading: Park It, Walk It, Bike It, Transit | The Urbanist

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