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Local police officers won’t live here

McLachlan’s bill deserves support for law enforcement to reside out-of-state

In government, as in life, it is important not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Thoughtful people understand that.

Take state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango. She is helping Colorado law enforcement agencies – including the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and the Durango Police Department – by way of House Bill 22-1371. That measure would remove the requirement that Colorado law enforcement officers live in the state.

On the surface that may seem counterintuitive. After all, in a perfect world, local cops would be part of our community on all levels. We would see them at the grocery store. Our children would go to school with theirs. We would get our oil changed together, see them at church and run into them at the PTA meeting.

But that is just not how things work now. The real choice is this: If you feel the need to call 911, would you rather have a cop show up who might live in Aztec or would you rather just deal with the situation by yourself? Most of us would probably choose Plan A.

That is the reality McLachlan seeks to address. Many of the people in law enforcement, especially those who are likely to be first responders, are relatively young. None are overpaid. And, as we all know, housing prices in much of this state are off-the-charts high.

The obvious solution would be to pay cops more, but Coloradans – like most Americans – are allergic to taxation. So, at least in parts of the state near state lines, one solution is to allow them to live in places they can afford, even if that means in another state.

And, while that might not be ideal, it is really not that radical. At this time, only three Durango police officers live within the city limits. Many live in Mancos, Bayfield or other parts of La Plata or Montezuma counties. Is that really all that different than having a home in Aztec?

There are questions, of course. What does it mean to serve, and get paid by, people in one state while you vote in another? Could cops with homes in New Mexico somehow retain their Colorado citizenship?

Is having our community policed by people who live in another state ideal? No. Could they come to feel like second-class citizens and resent Durango’s privileged residents? The danger is real.

But those are questions for another day, and none come close to overriding the basic issue. When people call 911, they expect someone to show up. For that, we need to have police officers – and they need somewhere they can afford to live. That affects local law enforcement agencies’ ability both to recruit and retain the people they need.

As we have come to expect, McLachlan is on the right track. Rather than the posturing and pontificating we have grown used to from Washington, she is addressing a nuts-and-bolts issue that affects her constituents in real life. She and this bill deserve broad support.