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A Bargain All Around

'Officer Next Door' home-buying plan can be a community plus

September 21, 1997

Many L.A. cops can't afford to live in the areas they police. Instead, they live in isolated suburbs or outlying communities in neighboring counties. This geographic divide can contribute to an adversarial "us-against-them" mentality, especially when officers choose predominantly white areas distinctly different from the widely diverse neighborhoods they have sworn to protect and serve.

More than 83% of LAPD officers live outside the city that employs them, according to a 1994 study by the American Civil Liberties Union. The survey--"From the Outside In: Residency Patterns Within the Los Angeles Police Department"--documented concentrations of police officers in white suburban areas such as the Santa Clarita Valley and Simi Valley.

The same pattern exists in New York, where about 45% of NYPD officers live outside the city limits. And it's a problem nationwide, one that prompted President Clinton to give 2,000 cops a big break: Now they can buy deeply discounted government-owned homes in troubled communities where a police presence can make a difference.

"If we can give police officers and their families 50% discounts to move back into the inner cities, it will be some of the best money the federal government ever spent," Clinton said when he announced the program in June.

The biggest benefit of the "Officer Next Door" program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is financial. The purchasing police officers get 50% off the appraised value of the houses, and they need to put down only $100. That's a deal that even rookie cops, who earn about $40,000 a year, can afford.

They must agree to live in the house for three years. They get their piece of the American dream. The neighbors get a cop next door, an officer who makes many neighbors feel a little safer, a role model for youngsters.

Last week, one LAPD officer settled into a home in the San Fernando Valley under the program; four more are expected to move into Valley and South L.A. homes next month.

The city Housing Department has moved aggressively to take advantage of the program. Police officers can choose from a HUD inventory of foreclosed homes in 44 ZIP codes--in the Crenshaw district, South L.A., North Hollywood, North Hills, Pacoima and other so-called distressed areas.

Chief Bernard Parks believes that an officer's choice of residence is a personal decision, but he lives within the city and thinks that sends a positive message. A bond between police and residents stands at the heart of the concept known as community policing. No cop has to live in the city to be a good cop. A good cop can live 50 miles away. But now there's a greater possibility that he or she can live in L.A., right next door.

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