Windsor·Exclusive

A majority of Windsor police officers don't live in Windsor. Is this a problem?

A CBC analysis of data received from Windsor Police via a Municipal Freedom of Information Act request shows only 40.5 per cent of officers live in the city.

Data released to CBC shows only 40.5 per cent of officers live in the City of Windsor

The Windsor Police Service employs 456 officers in Windsor and 30 in Amherstburg. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A CBC analysis of data received from the Windsor Police Service (WPS) shows a majority of officers do not live in the two municipalities they serve.

The numbers, obtained through a Municipal Freedom of Information request, indicate the service employs a total of 639 people. Of that, 486 are sworn officers, while the remainder are civilian, which includes administrative staff and cadets.

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A total of 33 staff — 30 officers, 3 civilian — are assigned to the Amherstburg detachment, which took over policing of the town in January. 14 officers, or 47 per cent, have home addresses in Amherstburg.

The percentage is even lower when looking at officers dedicated to the City of Windsor.

Out of a total of 456 officers, only 185 — 40.5 per cent — live in the city, with the rest living in surrounding Essex County and a small number (3) living in the Chatham-Kent communities of Tilbury and Wheatley.

LaSalle is the community with the single largest contingent of Windsor officers who live outside of the city they serve, with 74 residents, followed by Belle River, with 52.

'Not representative of the community'

In January, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch released the Independent Street Checks Review, a report commissioned by the provincial government to review the police practice known as "carding."

In calling for the elimination of random street checks, Tulloch made more than 100 recommendations in his report.

The judge, in the review's final chapterspecifically called on police services to make efforts to hire officers who live within the community they serve.

Justice Michael Tulloch made more than 100 recommendations in the Independent Street Checks Review. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Tulloch noted that during his consultations, the issue of commuter officers was raised by stakeholders, and that "those police officers were perceived as being less knowledgeable about the dynamics of the community they served, and not representative of the community itself."

The justice wrote that officers in smaller communities often did not engage in random street checks because "they already knew who the people were."

Thus, Tulloch wrote, "given the trend toward community policing, it is preferable to have police officers hired from the community where they live in order for them to truly reflect and represent their community."

A majority of Windsor officers don't live close to the service's downtown headquarters. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Anneke Smit, associate professor and director of the Centre for Cities at University of Windsor's Faculty of Law, says the recommendation is a good one.

"I probably would go as far as to say that it doesn't apply just to police, but I think also we should look at municipalities more generally," Smit said.

"If what we want are people who understand our cities ... then having people who actually live in those areas is important. I don't think that living in those areas is the only way to go about it, but I think it's a pretty good indicator."

Anneke Smit runs the new Centre for Cities at the University of Windsor's Faculty of Law. (Michael Hargreaves/CBC)

Smit explained that while it would be unrealistic to expect every officer to live in the neighbourhood they patrol, WPS needs to demonstrate how officers develop a strong knowledge of communities they serve.

"The challenge that Justice Tulloch's report is getting at ... is the challenge of police officers having a deep understanding of the neighbourhoods that they are policing," she said.

"Residency requirements might be one way to think about getting at that, or at least [prioritizing] officers who live in the area they are policing and intend to stay there."

Police residency requirements possible: Supreme Court

Unlike some jurisdictions in the United States, governments and other public employers in Canada do not, for the most part, impose residency requirements on their employees.

Doing so was declared unconstitutional in the 1997 Supreme Court case Godbout v Longueuil (City of), in which a civilian police dispatcher for the City of Longueil, Que. disputed a requirement that she live in the municipality as a condition of her employment.

A Supreme Court ruling left the door open to residency requirements for essential employees. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

However, the court left open the possibility that it might make sense for police and other emergency workers to have some sort of residency requirement. 

Justice Gérard La Forest, writing for the majority, wrote that "in certain circumstances, a municipality (or, for that matter, another government actor) might well be justified in imposing a residence requirement on employees occupying certain essential positions."

The justice went on to specify that such a requirement on emergency workers — such as police officers, firefighters and paramedics — would make sense so they are "readily available in times of urgent need."

CBC News contacted the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to see if any of their members impose residency requirements. Spokesperson Natalie Wright said that policies vary by province, and that there is not a national guideline regarding residency requirements.

Experts contacted for this story said it would be unlikely that such a requirement would be mandated by a Canadian service.

Cops may commute for mental health, safety reasons

Holly Campeau, a sociologist at the University of Alberta who studies police culture, acknowledges that while many residents have an expectation that police officers should have a stake in the community they serve, there are job-specific reasons for officers to live and work in different municipalities.

Holly Campeau is an assistant professor at the University of Alberta who focuses on police culture. (University of Alberta)

The first reason has to do with a growing awareness of mental health issues among emergency workers.

"Careers in law enforcement can be really all-encompassing," Campeau said. "So, a little physical distance can be helpful and healthy for some members to be able to better serve the community when they are in the city and better navigate that work-life balance."

The second factor has to do with safety.

"[There is a] real tendency for police officers to run into people that they've engaged with on the job, sometimes in an arrest scenario," she said. "While for some, this is an non-issue ... for others it can lead to safety concerns or apprehensiveness if that officer is out and about with their families."

Campeau, who lives in Edmonton but was raised in Tecumseh, says while a disparity in where officers live can be a problem in cities with high degrees of racial and social segregation, she doesn't think it's an issue in the context of Windsor and Essex County.

"Often residents of these bedroom communities ... they still identify with Windsor as their city," she said. "It's the place they go to for their entertainment, major events, it's typically their source for local news."

"Just because they aren't residing in Windsor proper, doesn't necessarily mean that they don't identify meaningfully with life in Windsor or even as a Windsorite."

However, Campeau said she feels it is important that individuals at the top of the organization, such as the chief, should live in the community they serve.

WPS not concerned

Sgt. Steve Betteridge, public information officer for WPS, confirmed that he lives in Windsor, as does Chief Pam Mizuno. That said, he is not concerned that a majority of his colleagues do not — and says residents of Windsor and Amherstburg shouldn't be, either.

"What's important is: 'Does your officer know the area that they're working in?' And the answer is yes," Betteridge said. "We're working ten and 12-hour shifts [in Windsor and Amherstburg]."

Sgt. Steve Betteridge says residents of Windsor and Amherstburg shouldn't be concerned that most of their police officers don't live among them. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Let's not get tied into or focused on where somebody ... sleeps for the night," Betteridge continued. "Several officers I can think of, they're not living in the city, and yet still have tremendous ties here, and develop ties here."

When asked how officers are allowed to develop an understanding of the neighbourhoods they serve, Betteridge said it starts from the moment a potential officer becomes a cadet.

"They're exposed a lot to our community," he said. "They get to know geographically, the area, they get to make contacts."

After attending police college, cadets are then assigned to work with an experienced officer who is familiar with a particular district.

Betteridge added that WPS actively recruits future officers in the communities it serves, including at grade schools in Windsor and Amherstburg.

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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