Looking at the EPD: Does Residency Make a Better Officer?

As the nation examines policing in communities around the country, one of the major issues that frequently comes up in Everett and surrounding cities is the idea of residency – or whether or not police officers live in the communities they work in.

That is incredibly important in a city like Everett that is made up of such diverse groups of people, including different races, language groups, different religions and different ethnicities. A popular line of thinking through the recent examination of the police in the United States if preventing the “warrior” mentality on forces – which is an idea whereby officers from less diverse communities bring biases into their workplaces and report to work ready to fight a war rather than simply protect and serve.

It is a controversial idea, and there are several lines of thought as to whether living in the city makes a better police officer.

In Everett, there is no residency ordinance – unlike in Chelsea and Boston. However, Chief Steve Mazzie said they have had some of the most diverse hiring classes over the last five years, and that nine out of 10 officers are from Everett. He said there is about a 70-30 split with officers on the force, most having moved out of Everett at some point in their careers.

“Our recent hires in the last 10 years are more diverse than ever before,” he said. “We’re more diverse in the Everett Police Department than ever before…I haven’t seen anything in my career that tells me an officer will be a better officer by living in the city. Even officers that don’t live here are rooted in the community  – many come on their free time to volunteer in the community. It comes down to whether you care about people…My experience has told me some officers it’s just a choice – especially when you have a family and whether you can afford to live here or not.”

In fact, Mazzie said his experience growing up proved to him it might be better not to live in the community where you enforce the law. Mazzie grew up in a policing family, and his dad was an Everett Police Officer. That, he said, often made him a target or an outsider with those in the community. Few wanted anything to do with the son of a cop, he said, which is why many officers might choose to move when they begin to have families.

“I’m one of the few who brings a unique perspective to this,” he said. “My dad was a police officer when I was growing up here. There were instances of people harassing my father at home, or targeting the kids. I saw his tires flattened. For the other City workers, it’s not required for firefighters or teachers.”

He said they have had instances where officers living in the community – because of the possible retaliation on kids and themselves – have been more reluctant.

“I’ve seen people maybe be more reluctant to get involved when they do have things come up,” he said. “They are worried about blowback. We had that recently when one officer had threats made because he was an officer doing his job. Some idle threats were made to him. That’s the world we live in. You worry about your family. That’s what I grew up with.”

It is a delicate balance, but Mazzie said it is why they try to hire from within Everett so that officers have grown up here, or are familiar with the community when they are hired. Those trying to be an officer in Everett do have preference on the Police Officer Exam – meaning anyone living in Everett at the time of the test jumps to the top of the list. That is why Mazzie says 90 percent of those hired are from Everett, with about 10 percent coming as lateral transfers from other police departments – most recently those have come from Boston Police.

“It’s not really going to top my list if someone is coming from a small department with a community that isn’t like Everett,” he said. “We’re not going to take someone from Middleton PD to come work in Everett.”

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