Why the Mayor’s police housing incentive program was a good idea

Earlier this year, the city of Stockton was embroiled in a battle between two competing crime initiatives: Mayor Silva’s Stockton Safe Streets plan and the long-awaited city Marshall Plan. Eventually, the Mayor’s plan was withdrawn and support was thrown behind the Marshall Plan to be placed on the ballot in November, where Stocktonians will decide its fate. While Stockton Safe Streets is no longer on the table, the plan did introduce some concepts that warrant further consideration. Specifically, getting more Stockton Police officers to live in the City of Stockton.

Unlike more scrutinized aspects of the Stockton Safe Streets plan, the “Live in Stockton Incentive Fund” is a less controversial, low-risk idea that could deter crime, improve community relations, stabilize neighborhoods and serve as a recruitment incentive without tapping into city finances. With Stockton planning on hiring over 100 officers in the next couple of years (pending the passage of the Marshall Plan tax increase), a well-thought out police housing fund could prove to be a boon to Stockton’s neighborhoods.

A police housing incentive can help deter crime and stabilize neighborhoods (photo from Cliff Otto’s blog, The Record)

How it works

The idea is fairly straightforward: an organization—the city, a foundation, a nonprofit—teams up with a police department to offer a financial incentive for police officers to live in the city, many times in a particular neighborhood. This assistance can come in the form of a forgivable loan or cash for a down payment for purchasing a home. Some programs offer cash incentives to rent in a specific area as well. These programs may also connect new officers to resources that help them transition into homeownership in the city.

There are several ways to fund these programs. In Detroit, the city uses Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) money from the federal government. In Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Foundation raises money from corporate and private donations as well as fundraising events. In Baltimore, some housing programs are funded by the city and matched by institutions or foundations such as Johns Hopkins University (most of the information presented in this article comes from a report from the Abell Foundation in Baltimore).

Reducing Crime

A handful of studies suggest that increasing police presence through a housing incentive program can serve as a crime deterrent for two reasons. The first reason is higher visibility. The physical presence of an officer living on the block makes criminals wary of committing a crime in the immediate area, especially if that officer is allowed to bring their squad car home (not sure what the SPD policy is on this).

Residents are also more comfortable sharing information with an officer if they are also their neighbor. Having an officer across the street helps to forge positive relationships with the community that may otherwise never interact with law enforcement unless reporting a crime. Also, more officers make people feel safer and increases their overall satisfaction and trust with their police department.

Where Stockton stands

According to a 2011 article in The Record, about 45% of Stockton police officers reside in the city, which is actually a very reasonable percentage compared to other cities. For example, In San Francisco, only 25% of officers reside in the city. In Oakland, just 54 officers total live in town, about 8% of the department’s 614 officers. Nationally, Stockton has a higher percentage than Atlanta (22%), Baltimore (28%) and Chattanooga (42%). On the other end of the spectrum, cities such as Pittsburgh, PA actually mandate that emergency responders reside within city limits, though these requirements are becoming less common and are unpopular with police officers.

SCL officer chart

How this could work in Stockton

With the city planning on hiring over 100 officers in the coming years, there is ample time to put together a well-designed police housing incentive program that can provide a significant boost to the community. While many current officers with families and houses are less inclined to move into the city or to a different neighborhood, newer and younger recruits with uncertain housing situations could find the program helpful.

This program should be targeted to specific areas of the city to be as effective as possible. A city-wide housing program ignores the neighborhoods that would benefit much more than others by the presence of a police officer. For example, if the goal is to revitalize communities and deter crime, it wouldn’t make as much sense to subsidize an officer to live in a gated community where crime is already relatively low. On the other end of the spectrum, incentivizing housing solely in high-crime areas is not likely to be popular among officers. Instead, incentives should be focused on “middle-market and middle-market stressed” neighborhoods. In Stockton, these incentives may be most efficient in areas such as midtown where housing may be more desirable than higher crime areas but less stable than more conventional developments such as Brookside or Spanos. Further, this program could weight neighborhoods differently, providing more assistance based on the condition of the area, as explained in an earlier SCL article on the benefits of a Live Near Your Work program for UOP.

As noted above, there are several ways in which a city can fund such a program. In particular, shifting NSP funds into a housing incentive program could be a more efficient use of these funds since having an officer purchase a house does more to “stabilize” a neighborhood than a typical owner-occupant. The Stockton Police Foundation could raise funds as well through donations and fundraisers. Corporations and institutions may also be eager to financially support a program that brings stability to their surrounding areas.

A police housing incentive program is a fairly low-risk approach with potentially significant impacts, but the goals of such a program should also be realistic. Several cities that have adopted these programs have had a relatively small amount of officers participate, but that doesn’t mean that the program isn’t working. Housing incentives are viewed as popular by many officers, even if they do not initially plan to take advantage of the program, and can also help police departments forge new or strengthen existing relationships with community organizations.

When asked about their program, the Atlanta Police Foundation program manager explained that this is a long-term investment, and that a city should never expect to convince all officers to move into the city. With this in mind, I believe that this is a practical program that should be considered in Stockton. The risk is low, money can come from sources other than the city general fund, and even if just a few officers initially take advantage, that is a few streets that now have residents that feel a little safer.

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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia founded SCL in March of 2012. He holds degrees from UCLA as well as Johns Hopkins University and currently works as the Chief Operating Officer at Ten Space in Downtown Stockton, and previously worked as a researcher/analyst for a congressional agency in Washington DC. The views expressed here are solely of the author.

9 Comments on “Why the Mayor’s police housing incentive program was a good idea”

  1. majake01
    July 23, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    If I’m a cop with a family there is no way I would live in the city where I work the streets. The scumbag you arrest today could run into you and the family at the grocery store or the movie theater etc. They could follow you home, follow your kids to school, Imagine standing in line at McDonald’s and hearing ” hey officer Bob, how you doing? Is this your family? See ya ’round officer Bob!” No Thanks!

  2. July 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    What was great about the Mayor’s plan was it got the council to acknowledge that we need cops.

  3. Nan
    July 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    I do agree that incentivizing people to live in Stockton is worth serious consideration. If you live in a town you are invested in good results from programs/improvements. I don’t know if I would go as far as only giving the incentive if they lived in a high risk neighborhood (just getting people to stay in town is the primary goal – neighborhood stabilization is the bonus option at this point) unless there was tiered program that those who took homes in the high risk areas also received the best incentives.

  4. Jon Seisa
    July 23, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

    I was amazed by your chart that Stockton ranks better than I thought in this area without the program, compared to other cities cited, other than Pittsburg with the mandated in-town police residency. I like your multi-tiered financing approach to this, extrapolated from other similar model sources. It’s this kind of innovation and ‘thinking out of the box” that is crucially needed these days.

    Since there currently exists other models of this plan, is there any data on there success rate that are gauged with a time period cycle comparison showing % improvement with data of reduced crime results that can add ammo to the cause?

    I’m so glad you eventually defined what you meant by “particular neighborhood” and that the high-risk ghettos weren’t the targeted neighborhoods for police residency, not appealing at all for anyone, but rather specifically targeted mid-safety level and affordably priced housing zones in adjacent neighborhoods. Makes sense.

    Well, I would say propose your concept to the mayor and council members and open it up to discussion and consideration at the very least, perhaps they can form a task force to investigate this idea, and eventually fine tune a strategic plan either as a dovetailed complimentary strategic plan separate from the Marshall Plan, or as an addendum sub-plan to the Marshall Plan, whether for this November’s election or next year. Anything is worth a try at this point.

    I don’t think there is a singular cure-all for combating crime, but rather a multi-tiered ‘swarm offensive’ is ideal using many plans and tools, and this one would certainly be a great augmentation in the mix. It’s like ants, when a hostile intruder, like a scorpion, infringes their territory, they swarm it in the hundreds and it is overwhelmed and high tails out of there.

    Could this idea also be applied to ‘police decentralization’? Besides a centralized police headquarters in downtown Stockton, a massive fortress removed from where citizens actually reside, has there been any thought in establishing small police satellite-stations located in targeted high-risk crime districts with a minimal staff and police force, say less that 30 police and about 10 police cars? There is one I pass on the east side of my city and when I drive past the satellite-station I notice that I—— slow down. So, it works.

    Also, I was reading the other day that the best and far more effective deterrent in lowering city crime rates is for cities to get their police out of their police cars and put them on the streets to walk beats and intermingle with residences, businesses, merchants and the community. So this concept of putting the police where the citizens are makes perfect sense as one strategy.

    But besides police protection, and on a more grand level, if I may, that is obviously beyond this focused topic, but related in a roundabout way, so I will throw it out there anyway— in our society there really needs to be a dramatic change in people’s overall behavior and character towards good principled values, righteous integrity and self-worth and selfless community duty so that doing crime does not even enter the mind in the first place, a “Good Citizenship Movement”. I just don’t know how that can be achieved; perhaps through the aesthetical arts and culture, like Charlemagne did in the post-barbaric Roman period and post-Dark Ages to birth the emergence of the Renaissance, a cultural revolution, where “destructivity” and negative societal assaults gave way to “constructivity” and positive and noble pursuits, uplifting the human spirit and quality of life when public works projects, the fine arts, literature, architecture and sciences emphasized harmonious beauty and positive aesthetical continuity. You are what you eat; people are what they consume and are exposed to. So a society that shifts into a harmonious mode bombarding the senses becomes harmonious, but a society indulging and gorging on the hideous and vulgar on every level becomes the same hideousness and vulgarity. Hence, skyrocketing egregious crimes becomes the order of the day (note the horrific news out of Cleveland last week, yet again).

  5. Chalon Roberts
    July 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    first I question the numbers as I believe when the report was released it said Police Dept EMPLOYEES which includes a whole slew of office personnel in several depts including code enforcement, animal shelter and many more non-officer positions. Second while i understand what the officer stated about his family and I respect what he says there are many many officers who live in the same city they work in. People and neighbors know and look out for the family. If we had more officers the demeanor of the citizens should change.

  6. Jon Seisa
    July 25, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    David, I didn’t know how to send this to you, because there doesn’t seem to be a way to contact you personally, so I will just post this link on this current topic; I hope you see it. This is the city data site that has a profile on Stockton with some excellent charts, graphs and demographics that I know you’ll appreciate. Note the mobility/transportation pie, I would say Stocktonians are very car oriented. You may also find some other interesting things here; quite a collection of data: http://www.city-data.com/city/Stockton-California.html

    • David Garcia
      July 25, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

      Jon,

      Thanks for the information, very robust. In the future if you would like you can send me direct emails at stocktoncitylimits@gmail.com.

  7. Jon Seisa
    July 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Oh, thanks David, I will do just that. I have this vision to pull together (as time allows) a creative design blog entitled “Stocktontopia – Re-Envisioning the Delta City” —- so I’ll send you the link when it’s up.

    It will be a collection of my own architectural and planning design vision for Stockton, magnificent possibilities, on urban renewal and high-intensity key flagship elements that are geared toward economic and aesthetical rejuvenation and meant to serve as a point of great inspiration, some pragmatic, most grandiose and highly imaginative, no holds barred, where financing and regulations are not a hindrance. I’m currently working on the major entries. If you shoot for the stars, you get the moon; but if you shoot for the moon, you get nothing. More later…..

  8. David Garcia
    July 26, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    That sounds great, Jon. I look forward to seeing your ideas.

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