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N.Y. activist’s call for cops to live in cities they police goes viral

Arguments about residency requirements for police and other public workers in Syracuse have existed for years


Director of the Central New York Chapter of the NYCLU Yusuf Abdul-Qudir leads the People’s Agenda for Police Reform meeting with city officials to demand reforms, City Hall, Syracuse, N.Y., Thursday July 2, 2020.

Photo/Scott Schild/

Police1 columnists Jim Dudley and Joel Shults debate the pros and cons of residency requirements for police officers. Should cops live in the communities they serve? Click here to see what Police1 readers said.

By Teri Weaver
Syracuse Media Group

Syracuse, N.Y. -- Yusuf Abdul-Qadir’s calls for more Syracuse police officers to live inside the city they patrol has been seen by millions of viewers in recent days.

The 2:20 clip comes from a four-hour meeting at Syracuse’s city hall on July 2, when a group of about 20 people hammered Mayor Ben Walsh about police policies, spending and officer accountability.

In the clip, Abdul-Qadir asked Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh how many city officers live inside the city’s limits. Police Chief Kenton Buckner can be heard off camera saying about 5%.

That means nearly every Syracuse police officer spends money on rent or property taxes outside of the city, Abdul-Qadir argues.

“That means they take their money, on (Interstate) 81, go to outside the city, pay taxes in those communities that have some of the best schools, where we have an underfunded (Syracuse) school district,” Abdul-Qadir said in the clip.

“We are funding for other people’s communities to have the promise of the American Dream while we are denying it in our community,” Abdul-Qadir said. “We are actually funding the suburbs.”

The message is resonating across social media, including on Twitter and Instagram. Actor Andrew B. Bachelor (@KingBach on Twitter) tweeted it Thursday. As of about 1:30 p.m. today, it’s had 6.5 million views from that one post alone.

Thousands of others have joined the conversation, including Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist behind 1619 Project, an ongoing project developed by The New York Times Magazine with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States.

“This is one of the most cogent arguments I’ve seen for defunding police depts and makes a powerful statement about the immorality of paying police and teachers who don’t live in cities they serve,” she wrote. “City budgets in places with poor schools, services, fund the suburban good life.”

Abdul-Qadir is the director of the local chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Walsh, who was elected without running on a major party line, is in his third year as mayor.

Arguments about residency requirements for police and other public workers in Syracuse have existed for years.

Just months ago, Walsh and the police union negotiated a partial solution: A new contract would have required newly hired officers to live in the city for five years.

But a Democratic-controlled common council nixed the contract, saying the city couldn’t afford a series of raises and bonuses offered to cops in exchange for the residency requirement.

The annual budget for Syracuse police is $49.5 million, which is about 20% of the city’s $253 million overall budget.

At the July 2 meeting, Abdul-Qadir argued Walsh should reallocate $20 million of the police budget back into programs that would help city residents.

Without that redirect, Abdul-Qadir said, city taxpayer money would continue to flow to outside communities, to pay for health insurance and schools and long-lasting pensions, building wealth in other communities that will last for decades.

In Syracuse, 9% -- 37 out of 427 -- of sworn officers are Black. About 30% of the city’s population is Black. Despite a 40-year-old federal consent decree that enables the city to give preference to minority police candidates, recruiting Black cops has been a challenge, Buckner, who is Black, has said.

“It’s not just a class issue, it’s a race issue,” Abdul-Qadir told the mayor. “We’re telling black and brown people, and poor people, you don’t matter.”