Chattanooga is ironing out details of a plan aimed at enticing veteran and rookie police officers to move into the city.
"We're looking at, 'What would it take?'" Mayor Ron Littlefield said last week.
Two weeks ago, Littlefield proposed to the Chattanooga City Council developing a housing incentives package for police officers who move into the city. Now, 42 percent of the Chattanooga Police Department's officers live inside the city limits, records show.
But police union leaders are skeptical, saying the city has been down that road before. Still, they say, the right package could help lure younger recruits to move here.
"They've tried these incentive packages before, and they were to less-than-desirable areas," said Phil Grubb, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 673. "No one wants to move to a less-than-desirable part of town."
Chattanooga in 1999 implemented a program "Officer Next Door," said Beverly Cosley, the city's director of multicultural affairs. She said the program helped secure discount mortgage rates in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development homes.
Cosley said the program offered limited housing, mostly in the inner city, but in other parts of town as well.
"We have officers in that program living in East Brainerd," she said.
Cosley said perceptions also may have changed. For example, the Southside was once viewed as a less-than-desirable place to live but is now filled with popular single-family homes and condominiums, she said.
THE ATLANTA MODEL
* $1,000: Relocation bonus offered by the Atlanta Police Foundation
* $77,000: Amount in the budget for the Atlanta relocation bonus this year
* Discounted rates: Atlanta Police Foundation partners with real estate agents, developers and apartment complexes to offer lower mortgages, housing prices and rental fees.
Source: Atlanta Police Foundation
Cosley said the incentives idea came from an article about a similar program in the Atlanta Police Department, though she said some aspects of that program may be too rich for Chattanooga.
"I think their approach is a lot broader," she said.
Stephanie Cruse, housing program manager for the Atlanta Police Foundation, said only 22 percent of the 1,800-member Atlanta Police Department lives in the city. Starting four years ago, the department began offering a $1,000 relocation bonus for sworn officers to move into the city, she said.
The program also teams up with community partners to find homes and rental properties at discounted prices, she said.
Many officers say they don't want to live in Atlanta because of high housing costs, substandard schools and unsafe conditions, she said.
"We don't expect to reach and move every police officer," she said. "Obviously, it comes down to preference."
Since the fall, 30 officers have expressed interest but only one has qualified for the $1,000 relocation bonus, Cruse said.
Littlefield and Cosley said Chattanooga's program is still in its infancy. Littlefield said the program from the 1990s could be "expanded and enhanced," and Cosley said she is looking for community partners.
Sgt. Craig Joel, vice president of the Chattanooga chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he sees the incentive as twofold: moving officers to high-crime neighborhoods in hopes of deterring crime and making fewer officers subject to take-home car mileage fees.
The City Council voted last week to charge take-home fees of 30 cents a mile for officers who live outside the city.
But Joel said avoiding the car fee isn't enough of an incentive.
"It's a $25 to $45 a week fee," he said. "We're not going to move into the city to save $20 a week."
He said police officers also don't want to live alongside the criminals they work to put in jail.
"Lion tamers don't move into the cage," he said.
Littlefield said he knows not all officers will want to move into the city. And he said he doesn't need union leaders' approval to proceed with his idea.
"Do they think criminals can't go outside the city?" he asked. "If the union leadership is not interested in the incentives, it's not for them."