Advantages and Disadvantages of a Residency Requirement for Winnipeg Police Officers -Brittney Macht
A home is a place that provides an individual a safe, connected space to come back to at the end of a long day. As such, the sense of security a home offers is vital for an individual’s physical and emotional well-being. Thus, where an individual determines to place their home is influenced by a number of important factors. These include closeness to family, religious entities, cost of living, etc. However, in certain jurisdictions, there may be restrictions typically through an individual’s employment, requiring them to live in a certain geographic area. This is known as a residency requirement. Not only do these requirements make it so that an individual has to currently live at an address in a certain geographical region, but they must also have the intent to remain there if they wish to maintain employment. As a result, this requirement causes frustration and concern for employees, but also equally creates a solution for employers who rely on their employees residing in a certain region.
Considering twenty percent of Winnipeg Police officers live outside the Winnipeg city limits, the following blog will outline both the advantages and disadvantages of a residency requirement for Winnipeg police officers and will also include my opinion on whether a residency requirement would feasibly be implemented in Winnipeg.
Beginning with the potential advantages of a residency requirement, in considering other jurisdictions who have seriously considered implementing residency requirements, the main reason for doing so is convenience and resources. As noted in the article Adam Calls NYPD City Residency Requirement a Smart Idea by Ari Feldman, the author discusses how a residency requirement in New York would save the city resources and derive extra value from its officers. The author notes that many of New York’s officers work off duty and are held accountable for monitoring crime when doing daily tasks. However, 52% of the officers currently employed in New York live outside the city in different counties. As a result, in allowing these officers to live in other counties, the Mayor believes he is essentially paying for his officers to protect other counties besides New York. The Mayor also believes the implementation of a residency requirement would improve the relationships between officers and the communities they live within and bring more revenue into the city by requiring them to live there. Additionally, the article discusses how an individual’s role in their employment may be the primary driver for the implementation of a residency requirement. For example, rural paramedics, police, or firefighters must be a reasonable enough distance away from their halls in order to quickly, and efficiently respond to emergencies.
As such, the residency requirement provides a plethora of benefits for employers who have an interest in ensuring their communities are served safely. Not only this, but the residency requirement also facilitates the prospering of relationships between employees, employers, and the communities they serve.
Despite these benefits, there are many disadvantages in implementing a residency requirement, especially in Winnipeg. Here, an individual should have the right to personal autonomy and the right to make private choices free from state interference. By implementing a residency requirement, this right would be unlawfully restricted. Additionally, as noted above, an individual looks to a number of factors in choosing where to establish the location of their home, these include nearness to work, commercial retailers, religious entities, closeness to family, and the cost of living, etc. Therefore, by implementing a residency requirement, this choice would largely affect an individual’s ability to make these choices, and in turn affect their quality of life. Additionally, David Murphy in Residency Requirements and Public Perception of the Police in Large Municipalities explored the relationship between police residency and citizen confidence in the police service themselves. The author ultimately found that a residency requirement has a negative impact on citizen’s confidence in the ability of police to protect the public. The rationale behind this is that the limits of a geographic location may restrict hiring pools and therefore, would result in less qualified officers being hired.
Therefore, despite the benefits a residency requirement may pose for employers, this requirement would enforce a number of disadvantages for officers as they would be deprived of the right to make their own personal choice as to where to live.
Likelihood of Implementation
Given these arguments regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the use of a residency requirement in police forces, I believe that it is unlikely Winnipeg would implement such a requirement. A major factor in this determination is as a result of the decision of R v Godbout.
R v Godbout involved a residency requirement put in place for an employee who worked as a radio operator for the municipalities’ police force. Here, the employee argued that their s. 7 liberty interest was violated as a result of the residency requirement. The Court found that a person’s decision to choose their place of residence holds fundamental personal importance and is informed by a number of factors including location to family, friends, work, religious centers, and hobbies. Therefore, the Court found that her liberty interest was violated. However, the Court did make an important finding for future cases, noting that in certain circumstances an individual’s role may be sufficiently important to impose a residency requirement. The court's reasoning for this was that these individuals need to be able to respond promptly in times of urgent need. This might be applicable for individuals in rural communities as they will likely be on call.
However, in applying the findings of this Court to the circumstances of Winnipeg police officers, it is unlikely a residency requirement would be implemented as it could not withstand Charter scrutiny. In considering the argument from R v Godbout that a residency requirement would be appropriate for emergency workers, this would be feasible for rural police, but not for Winnipeg police officers. Here, Winnipeg police officers are pre-scheduled for shifts and are stationed out of specific locations throughout the city. As such, these officers are only responding to emergencies when they are scheduled to work and are not called out from their homes to attend. Therefore, I believe a residency requirement may only be applicable to rural police like the RCMP given their remote locations, but such a requirement would not be appropriate in consideration of the role of Winnipeg police officers.
Additionally, in considering the arguments from Feldman’s article, a residency requirement may be feasible in a large city such as New York, however, Winnipeg is quite a small city, and even if officers were to live outside the city limits, it is likely they still shop, attend education facilities, and visit other Winnipeg retailers given the city’s small size. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the right to determine where one lives is and should be upheld as a fundamental right under s. 7 as a home is at the core of one’s liberty interest.
Therefore, in considering both the advantages, disadvantages, and decision of R v Godbout on the residency requirements for the Winnipeg police force, I believe this requirement would not only place officers and the police force at a disadvantage but would also not pass Charter scrutiny under s. 7. This requirement would restrict officers from choosing where they want to live and also may reduce the potential pool of applicants given the fundamental importance of the right to housing and could rightfully deter potential candidates from ever applying to police departments in the first place.
Altogether, if police forces are considering implementing a residency requirement, they must consider the advantages and disadvantages of its implementation. I believe a department's ultimate determination in implementing a residency requirement could not only drastically affect the lives of officers, but could also negatively impact the future of the police force itself.
 Godbout v Longueuil (City)  3 SCR 844 at para 67 [Godbout].  Law Insider “Residency Requirement” (2022) online: https://www.lawinsider.com/dictionary/residency-requirement.  Ibid.  Winnipeg Free Press “So many cops aren’t neighbours” (2016) online: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/2016/11/05/so-many-cops-arent-neighbours  Ari Feldman, “Adam Calls NYPD City Residency Requirement a Smart Idea” NY1 (26 January 2022) online: https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2022/01/25/adams-calls-nypd-city-residency-requirements--a-smart-idea-.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Godbout, supra note 1 at para 85.  Ari Feldman, supra note 5.  Godbout, supra note 1 at para 66.  Ibid at para 67.  David Murphy & John Worrall, “Residency Requirements and Public Perceptions of the Police in Large Municipalities” (1999) 22:3 Policing: An International Journal 327 at 327.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Godbout, supra note 1 at para 17.  Ibid at para 58.  Ibid at para 67.  Ibid.  Ibid at para 85.  Ibid.  The City of Winnipeg “Collective Agreement” (2016-2021) online (pdf): https://legacy.winnipeg.ca/hr/department-information/collective-agreements/pdfs/WPA-CA-2016-2021.pdf at 33-34.  Godbout, supra note 1 at para 111.