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April 07, 2022

Philly waives residency requirement for police officers, prison workers

New hires now have six months to find a home in the city. They previously needed to establish residency at least 12 months before being hired

Government Police
Police Residency Rule Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

In the face of staffing shortages, Philadelphia waived a rule that required new police officers and prison workers to have lived in the city for at least a year.

Philadelphia will no longer require new police officers and corrections officers to have lived in the city for a least a year prior to being hired, a policy change aimed at improving recruitment efforts. 

The Civil Service Commission granted a waiver Mayor Jim Kenney sent requesting the policy change.

The Philadelphia Police Department is short nearly 1,000 officers, due to 400 outright vacancies and 560 officers who are off-duty due to injury claims, Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday. The Department of Corrections also has been short hundreds of officers, leading some to call prison conditions dangerous for inmates and staffers. 

Under the updated rule, new officers can be recruited from outside the city, but they must move to Philly within six months, said Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for the mayor's office. Officers who have served for at least five years are still free to move out of the city, which they've been allowed to do for more than a decade.

Philadelphia's residency requirement, which impacted most city employees, could be traced to the 1950s. It was eliminated in 2008, but reinstated in June 2020 as a way to boost the police force's diversity in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Philadelphia's police force is 57% white. About two-thirds of city residents are people of color.

The Fraternal Order of Police supported the policy change. John McNesby, the union's president, said it will expand the number of recruits available to the city. 

"You're not going to move to the city hoping to get a job," he said.

Kenney has long been an opponent of stringent residency requirements for new hires.

He introduced the bill that initially ended the practice in 2008. The mayor also never signed the 2020 bill, letting it lapse into law by declining to approve or veto it, the Inquirer reported. 

"It's basically like saying you can only play for the Phillies if you grew up in Philadelphia," Kenney said Wednesday.

But Councilmember Derek Green argues that the city can do more to bolster its recruiting efforts, adding that permanently eliminating the residency requirement is unwise. 

Green claims the starting salary of Philadelphia police officers – about $56,000 – is below the national average. That's why he introduced a bill that would create signing bonuses of up to $10,000 for new cadets. He also introduced legislation that would allow city agencies to apply for a waiver to temporarily eliminate the residency requirement if they are facing staffing shortages.