Residency appeal denied in Milwaukee
The 7th Circuit Court recently issued a warning to police officers in search of a home with a white picket fence located in a quite tree laden suburb. Call your realtor and put the search on hold. The case of Milwaukee Police Association, Michael V. Crivello v. City of Milwaukee, No. 16-4151 was decided on May 3, 2017. The appeals court upheld a residency requirement for Milwaukee police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers to live within 15 miles of city limits.
In December, the union representing rank-and-file officers appealed an earlier decision by a federal judge who said the city was allowed to require employees to live within 15 miles of Milwaukee or risk being fired. For decades, all city employees, with few exceptions, had to live within Milwaukee boundaries. This changed in 2013, when the Republican-led state Legislature passed a law that undid all such strict residency requirements but did allow for cities to require certain employees, including police and firefighters, to live within 15 miles of city limits. At that time, Milwaukee did not adopt a new rule but instead continued to enforce its residency rule. The police union sued. The state Supreme Court sided with the Legislature and the police union that the state law blocked the city’s historic residency requirements. After that ruling, the city adopted the 15-mile zone limit and said employees outside that limit could be fired, but the city allowed employees six months to move into the zone and gave temporary exemptions based on financial hardship.
Plaintiffs then sued, claiming that the Wisconsin statute gives them a vested right to live outside the City and that Milwaukee’s new residency requirement violates that right and violates their substantive due process rights. The Court disagreed and held that substantive due process “provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests.” But, the list of fundamental rights and liberty interests is short. And municipal employees do not have a fundamental right to be free from residency requirements.
Chicago police officers, like many officers assigned to large cities with a residency requirement, have long expressed a desire to eliminate the residency rule that currently exists. This measure was staunchly opposed by Chicago’s previous Mayor Richard Daly. The current mayor is also strongly opposed to any revision of the law requiring police to live in the City. Shortly after being elected to his first term Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “They are more than police and fire; they are anchors in a neighborhood. They’re the Little League coaches, the hockey coaches, the volunteers at the place of worship. They are anchors — not just in their block, but in their community.” Proponents of the residency requirement argue that allowing police officers to live outside of the City in which they patrol will create a disconnect between them and city residents. Our political leaders have been quick to criticize police lately and have called for measures that will build upon restoring a relationship between the police and those for whom they serve. Accordingly, I find it nearly impossible that the political leadership will step up to center stage and call for the repeal of residency. After all, law enforcement remains in the spotlight; why would a politician leave the safety and security of the darkness here?