Philly eases residency rules for police, correctional officers

Jack Tomczuk

Philadelphia has loosened its residency requirements for prospective police and correctional officers in an attempt to address labor shortages.

At the request of Mayor Jim Kenney, the city’s Civil Service Commission issued a waiver for the two job titles, effectively bypassing regulations approved by City Council in 2020 as part of a police reform effort in response to the demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd.

Just last May, during budget hearings, Kenney’s office and Council President Darrell Clarke signaled support for the PPD’s residency requirements.

But, amid escalating waves of gun violence, winds appear to have changed at City Hall, with legislation introduced last week that would ease the requirement to allow the department, which is down hundreds of officers, to consider a wider pool of candidates.

The 2020 bill mandated that Civil Service employees, including officers, live within city limits for at least a year before being hired. Proponents argued the measure would help the PPD diversify its force.

Under the waiver, police and correctional officer recruits from outside Philadelphia will have six months after finishing their probationary period to establish a residence in the city.

Police officers with at least five years experience have been allowed to relocate to the Pennsylvania suburbs since 2012.

Kenney requested the most recent change, first reported by the Inquirer, in a letter to the Civil Service Commission on March 29, writing that the PPD is “experiencing significant challenges obtaining qualified candidates.”

Meanwhile, understaffing at the city’s Northeast Philadelphia prison complex is impacting the court-mandated amount of time inmates should be allowed out of their cells, he said in the letter.

“There is no end date but we will regularly review to assess whether the waiver is still necessary,” Kenney spokesman Kevin Lessard told Metro in an email Thursday.

Kenney told reporters last week that the residency restrictions were handcuffing the PPD’s hiring efforts, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw added that the department “is nearly 700 police officers down from where we were just a few years back.”

Councilmember Derek Green introduced legislation last Thursday with the aim of attracting more recruits to the academy.

One of his bills would provide residency exceptions for people who received a degree from a Philadelphia school within the past five years; lived in the city for at least a year in the previous decade prior to military service; or lived in the city while working a previous Civil Service job.

In all cases, new hires have to relocate to the city within six months.

Green’s other legislation would provide an escalating series of cash bonuses for those who enroll in the police academy, up to $10,000 for recruits who complete one year on the force.

“While I appreciate Mayor Kenney’s attention to the residency issue, officers’ starting salaries are below the national average and this pay gap is the other major reason, according to Commissioner Outlaw, that we are having difficulty hiring new officers,” Green said in a statement Thursday.