May 19, 2021 - News

Des Moines' police residency desert

Illustration of a police badge with a roof and chimney on top of it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Less than 20% of Des Moines police officers live in the city, according to data Axios obtained through a records request.

  • The rest are sprinkled among 47 cites in multiple counties, with the most in Ankeny, West Des Moines and Norwalk.

Why it matters: Some civil rights advocates argue that more officers living outside the city they serve leads to disproportionate arrest rates.

  • If officers aren't part of the community, they're less likely to understand it. That can negatively impact trust-building within communities of color, some advocates say.

Yes, but: Not everyone agrees. A USA Today review last year found "no evidence" that officer residency matters.

Context: Iowa law allows officers to live anywhere in the state.

  • Des Moines requires officers to live within an hour from work.

What they're saying: DMPD gives officer applicants who live in the city a 5% preference point bonus, which can help them land a job ahead of another equally qualified candidate who lives elsewhere.

  • But that hasn't had any significant effect on the overall officer residency percentages, James Wells, DSM's HR director, told Axios.

The big picture: About 60% of officers in the nation's 75 largest cities live outside city limits, according to a 2014 analysis by FiveThirtyEight.

  • Communities have called for residency requirements for some time but the issue gained momentum following George Floyd’s murder last year.

The intrigue: We also asked three of Des Moines' largest suburbs for the same data. Two — Ankeny and West Des Moines — wouldn’t provide the breakdown, citing privacy issues. (Axios didn't request officer names or specific addresses.)

  • In Urbandale, about 20% of officers live in the city.

What's next: Joe Henry, a civil rights advocate who also served on the city's Civil Service Commission, is pushing Des Moines to take additional steps, such as offering financial incentives to resident officers.

  • City spokesman Al Setka told Axios there are ongoing discussions about such incentives.

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