- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

ROANOKE (AP) Roanoke is offering homes at below-market costs to young police officers to encourage them to live in the city in an effort to boost neighborhood safety and revitalization.
Nationwide, few police officers live where they work. In Roanoke, nearly 90 percent of the police department's 240 officers live outside the city.
Some officers say living elsewhere puts distance between their home and work lives and lessens the chance of criminals knowing where their families live.
But Roanoke government and police officials say the new "Officer Next Door" program will increase officers' understanding of city residents' concerns, reduce street crime, boost homeownership rates and help neighborhood revitalization.
Having police officers living in a neighborhood with their patrol cars parked in front of their homes sends a positive message to the community and warns criminals to stay clear, officials said.
"By living in the city, you're certainly more intimate with things that are happening in the city, not just on your shift, but during the rest of the day and night," Roanoke Police Chief Joe Gaskins told the Roanoke Times. "I've always lived where I work. I think I owe that to the community."
Similar programs have failed in other cities, including Richmond. Mike Etienne, Roanoke's acting director of Housing and Neighborhood Services and a former Richmond government official, said Richmond police officials weren't interested in the program.
"It's a very exciting program," Mr. Etienne said. "We think it's critical for neighborhood revitalization to succeed."
Roanoke does not have a blanket residency requirement for government employees but requires upper-level managers to live in the city.
More than half of city employees live in Roanoke.
"It's important that our employees live in the city, and it's particularly helpful to have our public safety personnel visible in the community," said City Manager Darlene Burcham, who lives in the city.
Police officers who live in Roanoke are allowed to take their patrol cars home when off duty.
The new program will start with the federally funded renovations of two run-down houses.
Participating officers will pay low rental or lease-purchase fees and be given the chance to buy the houses at their appraised values.
The program is open to all city police, but geared toward young officers because of the income-eligibility requirements.
Six young officers have expressed interest, but none has signed a contract.


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