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Councilman Hopes City Negotiates Residency Requirement

A city council member stressed that any implementation of a residency requirement for officers in the Jamestown Police Department should be negotiated into the department’s labor agreement.

City Councilman Jeff Russell, R-At Large, said during Tuesday’s meeting of the Jamestown City Council that he feared the requirement, of which was heavily discussed during the council’s work session, would be heavily litigated by the Kendall Club Police Benevolent Association, who has already come out against the proposed requirement. Russell is among council members in favor of the measure, which would not affect currently employed police officers. According to state law, the city could mandate the requirement because there are fewer than 200 employees in the department.

“I understand that there is case law on this, that this would be imposed as a result of that. My concern is that if this is imposed by the police department that there will further be litigation by the union which is going to cost the city money. I’m a proponent that this be negotiated or attempt to be negotiated before it is imposed upon the police department.”

“Just because simply there is a law does not mean you have to impose that law,” Russell added. “I’d like to see this negotiated with the union and not simply forced upon them because I am concerned about a lengthy litigation on the part of both parties.

Council President Tony Dolce, R-Ward 2, the body’s most senior member, said the issue was last brought up in 2001. The council ultimately decided to forgo making any requirement.

“This is an important discussion,” Dolce said. “I’m with Councilman Russell. It isn’t something we should jump into before putting it on the table with that discussion with the union.”

Vickye James, D-Ward 3, , told her colleagues that she has received a lot of positive feedback that the council has taken up this issue.

“I’ve been to some community meetings and I’ll tell you this –the community is happy,” James said. “I don’t know about the others, but the community is happy that we are talking about this. We were just in a meeting last night and the community was very pleased that this is being discussed.”

Still, questions remain about the proposal and how soon new hires would need to comply — many on the council believe it should take effect after an officer’s probationary period of 12 months.

“I don’t have any real feeling on whether it’s six months or a year for probation,” Mayor Eddie Sundquist told the council. “I think it is important that they do move in.”

Other sticking points also include the length of the requirement.

“The minimum amount we proposed was five years,” Sundquist said. “At the last session, we discussed 10 years. Anything between five or 10 years is fine with me and I absolutely would sign that into law. I know there’s a concern that 10 years is too much and I’m very much open to anything in between that, but I do think it should be a minimum of five years. We will have to clarify that because the five years start once the probation period has passed.”

He added, “The reason we have not put the law in hard form is that we needed more discussion on this. We’re looking for guidance from you all, but for my perspective, I think the minimum amount of time is five and I’m also happy with 10 or anything in between.”

Grant Olson, R-Ward 5, believes that 10 years is too long and could hinder interest in serving the city.

“I think we should start low,” Olson said. “We should start at the five and see where it goes and see the reaction fo the officers. Maybe see how they feel about it. I think seven, eight, nine, 10 is a long time to commit especially if they’re young and not really sure where things might be for them. I’m not even 100% behind it but I’d be more behind it with a shorter term behind it.”

James disagreed with Olson.

“I feel strongly — if it’s not 10, it should be nine, because of that year of probation,” she said. “If you’re young, you’ve got little kids and then you’re going to move out and still work in the city. If you’re a good officer, does it matter? Does it truly matter where you live if you’re a truly good officer if you want to work for the city for your passion? I think they should be in the city for at least 10 years.”

“If we go with five or seven, that five should take place after the probationary period,” Kim Ecklund, R-At Large, said. “I don’t want to hinder getting great officers for this city by that.”

Added Dolce, “It will take five or six years to know other than the fact that it would be interesting to see how the interest would be for those who would have to move … if they would feel as though it was restrictive. I see the other side of the coin as well because you don’t want to lose good people and you don’t want to discourage people from coming.”

If the requirement is negotiated with the union, Tamu Graham-Reinhardt, D-At Large, believes that the topic of community relations should be heavily stressed upon in accordance with the New York State Police Reform Initiative.

“If it becomes negotiated, I think that we need to make sure it is made clear that community relations is a big part of this document,” she said in reference to the initiatives that were discussed later in the meeting. “People, for lack of a better term, in higher risk communities need to feel as comfortable about their officers and the relationships they have with their officers as the ones who live in nicer neighborhoods. Everybody needs to make sure they feel that the police department cares about them. If it is negotiated, that’s great, but we really have to make sure that this document, which we are going to spend a lot of time on, reflects that.”

Tom Nelson, D-Ward 6, said he would be interested in the public’s opinion on the issue.

“I’d be very interested in public hearing because I have received a lot of positive feedback about the law, but I do think there are relevant arguments on both sides,” he said. “I would really like to see what the public has to say. I think it would work here, I really do, but I’d like to see what the people in the city would say. I’ve talked to police officers, neighbors and most generally see it as a good idea. I want to hear the other arguments on the other side of it.”

Sundquist said that if a law is proposed, the council itself can have a public hearing that would have to take place before the law is voted on. The council could have their own public hearing after a law is drafted so that any amendments could be made to that law, he added. An informal hearing could also be held or the public safety committee could have a public forum.”

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