State bill requiring police commanders to live in city limits has Pugh’s, Harrison’s support

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An officer on patrol. Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Cory McCray that would require all Baltimore Police Department officials ranking at captain and up to live in Baltimore City has Mayor Catherine Pugh’s backing, as well as that of the city’s incoming police commissioner.

In a statement, Pugh said she supports the bill—which would require roughly 50 commanders to reside in the city limits—because it’s “necessary that those who police our community also be part of the community.”

“We have no more important work than re-establishing trust between our police officers and residents of our City,” she said. Commissioner-appointee Michael Harrison, who starts as Baltimore’s top cop in about two weeks and must still be confirmed by Baltimore City Council members later next month, agrees that city residency should be a requirement for BPD higher-ups, Pugh said.

McCray’s bill went before the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday, where the city’s police union also testified in support as well.

It would impose the same residency requirements that the city enacted last year for at-will supervisors reporting directly to either the mayor or an agency head, covering about 150 positions. New hires have six months to relocate to Baltimore proper or risk losing their jobs.

McCray says applying the same rules to BPD would help improve withered police-community relations, a key focus of the 2016 federal investigation of the BPD that followed Freddie Gray’s death in police custody.

“This is a step in the right direction when we talk about people, police and the neighborhoods of Baltimore City and making sure that they actually live there,” McCray told Baltimore Fishbowl yesterday. “We know that when folks live in that community, they have more stake, more ownership and more investment in the communities that they’re policing.”

Maryland law generally says a locality can’t impose a residency requirement for municipal workers—like then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke did via executive order in 1993—as a condition of employment, with exceptions for elected officials, department or agency heads or chief administrative officers, per a fiscal policy note on McCray’s bill.

But in 2017, when he was a delegate for the 45th District, McCray sponsored legislation, later signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan, to let local jurisdictions require at-will supervisors to live within their local boundaries or a specified distance.

The Baltimore City Council passed its aforementioned residency requirements for higher-ups the following year.

McCray says SB 43 serves to grandfather BPD’s commanders into the same edict. Doing so via state legislation is necessary because, as the fiscal policy note on his bill stated, “Although BPD is a State agency, the State does not control the appointment or removal of the police commissioner and is not responsible for providing funding for the operations of the police department. However, the State retains the ability to amend the law relating to the department in order to implement policy changes.”

McCray has filed a separate bill calling upon BPD to redraw its age-old district boundaries after the next Census. More broadly, Del. Talmadge Branch, also of District 45, has proposed that the state return control of the police department to Baltimore City.

Ethan McLeod
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