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Detroit police commissioners worry about city's ability to mobilize officers in a crisis

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With about 70 percent of officers living outside the city, commissioners are starting to become concerned about the safety risks that might pose.

Several police commissioners in Detroit are concerned that officers won't be able to get into the city fast enough in the event of an emergency.

That's because about 70 percent of Detroit police officers currently don't live in – or near – the city.

Police commission chair Willie Bell says he's known about the problem since he became a commissioner in 2014. It’s partially due to a 1999 state law that prevents cities from requiring municipal employees to live where they work.

However, after hearing the latest statistics from a human resources representative at their July meeting, Bell and his colleagues became worried about the safety risk this situation might pose. They decided they need to do more research into how long it'll take to mobilize officers during a crisis.

Bell says in an ideal world, more of Detroit’s officers would simply live in Detroit. The city is working hard to make that happen, but in a place where the population has been declining for decades, that’s easier said than done.

The city is testing out incentive programs to try to boost recruitment. Detroit residents get bonus points on their entrance exams and test scores, and Bell says there’s also a program that offers houses from the Detroit Land Bank to police officers at half-price.

But, he told Michigan Radio, “We need to do more. We're trying to sort that all out in terms of marketing and promoting.”  

Assistant Police Chief Arnold Williams could not be reached for comment. He said at the July meeting that the department does not conduct mobilization drills, but most staff were able to get into work on short notice during the city-wide blackout in 2003.

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