Some Illinois communities have responded to what’s become a frequent complaint in Evanston — that the city’s police don’t live in town — by paying officers to move into troubled neighborhoods.

As described by Governing magazine this month, the idea started in 1991 in Elgin, which now offers four officers free rent to spend a few years living in the area they patrol.

The program recently expanded to Rockford, which hired an Elgin officer who’d been part of the program as its new police chief, and has also been implemented in Peoria.

The effort is aimed at building ties with communities in which a large number of residents now frequently distrust the police.

Four years ago Evanston surveyed its public safety employees and found that only about a quarter of the 160 police officers would even consider living in the city.

At the time City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said just seven percent of the officers on the force actually lived in town — which suggests that perhaps another 25 officers would be open to living here if offered the right incentives.

Evanston has offered housing incentives to some top level employess — providing Bobkiewicz and Fire Chief Brian Scott no-interest second mortgage loans on their homes.

But a plan advanced in 2012 to provide more modest assistance on a broader basis to public safety employees apparently went nowhere, at a time when the city was just starting to emerge from a budget crisis.

And officers at a recent community forum insisted that they don’t have to live here to care about the community.

Asked whether the free rent program offered in the other Illinois cities might work here, Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she’d seen the Governing story and noted that the programs it described involved the officers being tenants in the properties rather than homeowners, but she said the idea might merit further exploration.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, called it “an interesting concept” but said it would have significant costs that would have to be evaluated against the anticipated benefits.

And he said he’d prefer creating incentives for all city employees to live in town.

He said he frequently hears from residents “‘When I was growing up, we knew the police and the police knew us.’”

“There’s truth to that,” Suffredin said, “but it’s probably also an idealization of the past. If this program works to overcome that, and makes money sense, I’d be all for it.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, suggested it was “a very interesting topic” that would merit further consideration.

Related story

In extreme community policing, cops become the neighbor (Governing, July 2017)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why would you want to live

    Why would you want to live around the people you could be arresting.  Just last week you had someone assasinate a police officer on the street in New York.  The police in Chicago are discouraged from living near the Districts they work for this very reason.  

  2. Why any subsidy?

    I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the Evanston police force.

    But, I’d like to ask the question, why should taxpayers provide an additional housing allowance/subsidy? (whatever it’s called or how it’s structured)

    Currently, the average Evanston police officer is paid $90,913 per year (before benefits) and the median household income in Evanston is about $68,000 per year. The average police officer is paid 1.34 times the median household income in our community. (page 8 shows annual salary for 158 officers of $14,364,290) – page 22 also breaks out the data.

    And if we provide a subsidy to police officers, then what about firemen, and other city employees?

    As our taxes continue to increase (at city, county and state levels) more groups of people may seek subsidies.

    If this starts, where does it end, and what is an equitable process and approach?

    1. Call it hazardous duty pay?

      If we were talking, say, $24,000 a year each in free housing for four officers, the number currently in the program in Elgin, and if the program had a significant impact on improving community relations and reducing crime in hot-spot neighborhoods, I think a case could be made that it was a fair bargain for asking those officers to be “on call” in the community extra hours and irregular hours beyond their normal shift.

      And if, as has been the case in Elgin, participation in the program was seen as a route to promotion in the department, it might look like a fair bargain to some ambitious officers.

      If, instead, the program was going to subsidize officers to live in low-crime neighborhoods in the city, then it wouldn’t make much sense.

      More study would also be needed to determine whether such a program is actually effective.

      — Bill

  3. A Wild Idea—make Evanston attractive to live in

    Instead of coming up with subsides for police, firemen, city manager [until he decides to move again], probably teachers [if living here is not already required], and the subsequent list for the same, make Evanston affordable and attractive enough so they not only can afford but want to live in Evanston. This probably also applies to many current owners who moved here long ago but regret it now. Once we had decent shopping and enough business that taxes did not have to be raised all the time. Now the Council and others want to [they say they don’t but actions disprove it] add businesses [but seem to always find an excuse not to], give special deals to those they pick as ‘winners’, fund [sweetheart deals] every arts project that in anyway has ‘art’ anywhere in their literature, keep places like the Mansion off the taxrolls, give into every preservation group that keeps progress out of Evanston.  Why then the high-rises ? I bet just as the Council says they need less parking, they live in what they consider ‘secure’ buildings where they don’t have to see/interact with much of the, have groceries delivered—but take the Metra to work and shop in Chicago—who can blame them ? Of course Chicago gets the revenue for their spending.

    Get the Council [and its hanger ons] out of ‘tax and spend’ and maybe everyone—police and everyone else will be able to afford want want to live in Evanston.

    1. Mandate living in Evanston
      At the income level Evanston officers are it, it should be required they live here in Evanston. Other cities (Chicago) have this requirement and there are a variety of neighborhoods they could live in. If the premise is police officers only can afford the “bad” neighborhoods, that borders on racism. Obviously a “live in Evanston” mandate could not be instituted in the short term especially because of cba’s, it is possible and a positive move for community policing. And there needn’t be concerns over finding qualified officers in the future. The income is well within the parameters for living in Evanston.

      1. You noted that other cities
        You noted that other cities have residency but failed to elaborate that it is extremely unpopular, regularly contested and as recent is increasingly being overturned in the courts. What data do you have connecting community policing to officers living in town? My guess is none. As Bill Smith noted, mandatory residency becomes an extension of work. You don’t want your job knocking on your door with questions while you’re enjoying your time off or family time. Interestingly enough I read the linked article about Elgin’s program. Not one person here has commented on the fact Elgin had officer’s homes that were shot up and firebombed. Please note it wasn’t actually law enforcement looking to stay in town and asking for benefits. It is the cities’ idea hoping to win PR battles.

  4. How about top policy people live here?
    Unless the city is having trouble recruiting officers, this is a dumb idea. They are front line workers in very stressful jobs. Let them live where they want.

    I think it is more important for the well paid policy people (department heads, equity coordinator, etc….) to live here. Since they dictate policy. Many of them live out of town.

    I don’t think we should give them housing subsidies, however. They get paid pretty well.

    1. subsidies agreed

      the fact that keeps coming up is Wally’s housing/mortgage subsidy, which is totally embarrassing.  Any person making his kind of salary does NOT need an incentive.  It’s asinine to even have that be SOP for a manager.   HE should be embarrassed by that issue, but then again, he did want to leave and that didn’t happen.

      If I was an officer, I don’t think I’d want to be living in neighborhoods where I may have arrested people…nor would I want neighbors to come and  see me (off-duty) if they have problems.    They need their space, and need a place out of their work area…to chill out….unwind…and not think about their job stress…….it doesn’t mean they don’t care….because they do.   EPD has some great employees……

  5. Police Living in Town

    Really?  Who wants to live in a town of small minded self centered politicians? They better place an officer in one of the condo’s or apartments at Chicago and Main.    They’re going to need them to track down all the rogue drone operators peeping in residents windows!

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