Chattanooga is offering police officers up to $20,000 each to entice them into moving to redeveloping neighorhoods of the city, local leaders announced Tuesday.
Among the 461 commissioned officers, only 42 percent live within Chattanooga, according to a residency study conducted by the city last year.
"We have an inherently dangerous job. The interactions with our customers can get physical," said Craig Joel, vice president of Chattanooga's Fraternal Order of Police. "Raising your kids where you have clients who have a history of trying to kill you is not always an ideal situation."
Still, Joel said he's happy for the incentives and expects several officers to take advantage of the program. Those sharing neighborhoods with officers are usually happy to have the added sense of security with officers in the area.
"In an era of diminishing benefits for the profession -- financially, morally, in every sense -- every benefit is a welcome one," he said. "If one officer took advantage of this program, it's worth it."
Each officer moving to the city is eligible for a $10,000 loan forgivable over five years. Those willing to move into neighborhoods the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise is working to revitalize can receive $20,000 on the same terms. Those neighborhoods include Bushtown, Orchard Knob, Highland Park and Glenwood.
CNE President David Johnson said that each year, 20 percent of the loan will be written off and the entire debt will be forgiven if the officer stays in the home for at least five years.
"Police officers support our mission of building and ensuring quality neighborhoods in Chattanooga," Johnson said.
The city has budgeted $250,000 for the program, and Mayor Ron Littlefield said Tuesday he would push to add more money to the program next year if enough officers take advantage of the offer.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said he expects some officers will jump at the chance to get the loan, especially with the added benefit of take-home police cars for officers who reside within the city limits.
"We had a good response when there was a similar program in the past, and I think there will be some officers interested in this," Dodd said. "If you are looking to move or looking for a home, there is no way you can pass up a $10,000 or $20,000 incentive."
Dodd, who said he has lived in the Soddy-Daisy area for the past 17 years after living in both Chattanooga and East Ridge, said some officers in the past "didn't want to live and police in the same neighborhood" for fear of retaliation.
"Things have changed over the years and I'm not sure that is still the motivation," he said. "Primarily, it's just a personal choice officers make."
Littlefield said the city taxes may be pushing officers outside the city. He hopes this incentive will mitigate that concern.
Nevertheless, the city wants officers to live in Chattanooga to improve emergency response times and give area residents a greater sense of security.
In the past, the city has required officers to live within city limits. Those requirements were overturned because they were too restrictive on the pool of potential police officers.
"It increases the value of the whole community," Littlefield said. "It's a great investment."
The money comes from the city's general fund and is administered by Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise. Several officers already have entered the program, and the neighborhood group expects the first officer to buy a house within a month.
Dodd said the police department is on its third academy since he became chief in June 2010.
"Hopefully, for the officers coming in who are either single or just starting a family, this will be a great incentive," he said. "Having officers living in the city and in neighborhoods makes people feel more comfortable and safer."