The District government has given 36 police officers and firefighters 10 days to show they live in the city, as required by law, or face dismissal.
Letters were sent to 20 police officers and 16 firefighters late last month, notifying them that a review of personnel records shed doubt on whether they were residents of the District, according to Karen Lucas, public information officer for the Office of Personnel.
The warnings have drawn complaints of unfairness from the city employes, some of whom said they were erroneously given notice because they live in the city.
A 1980 law requires nonresidents hired by the D.C. government to move to the District within 180 days of their appointment. A grandfather clause exempts nonresidents already on the payroll when the law was passed. Forty workers have since been terminated for noncompliance, according to personnel office records.
The personnel office informed employes they must provide such proof as voter registration, motor vehicle registration, a D.C. driver's license or tax forms to verify their residency within 10 days, or request a hearing on their status.
A 6th District police officer who asked not to be identified said after his hearing yesterday at the Office of Personnel he was told by a hearing officer that he had failed to prove residency. He said he has been living in Southeast Washington since last August.
"I asked them what reasons they had for not believing I was a resident, and they refused to tell me," he said. "At that point, I was ready to walk out."
The officer, a one-year veteran of the force, said he offered as evidence his apartment lease agreement, a pay stub showing D.C. taxes withheld, a voter registration, rental receipts, a driver's license and a phone bill.
He said he was told that he has 10 days to appeal or resign or be terminated. "But I'm going to fight," the officer said.
Peter Carroll, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, called the hearing process "a kangaroo court. We offer the evidence, and they never accept it," he said.
But Lucas said the personnel office conducts periodic reviews of residency compliance for all government agencies and treats all employes equally.
"We are not singling them out," Lucas said. "We do periodic reviews, a random sampling of each department. This is not a stepped-up campaign. It just so happened we started going through the police and firefighters folders, and we came up with 36."
"The procedure has basically always been the same," Lucas said. "The persons cited have always been responsible for the burden of proof."
Some firefighters have charged that they are being harassed by District government investigators who spy on them while they are off duty.
"There's been a lot of intimidation since these letters came out," said District firefighter Kevin Rogan. "They have a snoop squad to follow us home to see where we live."
Lucas said no employes have been followed and that subjects of the review are selected at random. "We have never hired any investigators, and we don't have enough staff to do any investigating," said Lucas, though "we are trying to get some."
Most of the 36 employes were warned as a result of "reviewing personnel folders," Lucas said. "Occasionally we get anonymous calls or letters. Some employe may tell on another."
The recent letters sparked a recurrence of old objections to the residency requirement from police officers and firefighters.
"Housing is very expensive, and to find a decent place to live in this city is impossible," said Special Operations Officer Tim McMahon.
Lucas said the review will continue. "We just keep checking," Lucas said. "Just because we sent out 36 letters doesn't mean the review is complete . . . . We will keep checking."