New York’s Residency Requirement Can Lawfully Exempt Police But Not Deputies

The State of New York has long had a residency statute that requires deputy sheriffs to live in the county which employs them. The statute exempts city policy officers.

James Langmead was a deputy sheriff for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. When the County enforced the residency requirement against him, Langmead sued. The heart of his contention was that the statute impermissibly distinguished between police officers and employees of sheriff’s departments or, alternatively, that a sheriff’s department should be considered the equivalent of a police department.

A federal trial court dismissed Langmead’s lawsuit. Quoting extensively from a 1977 state court decision, the Court held that “the dispositive issue is whether a sheriff’s department is a police force of the county and whether a deputy sheriff, as a member of the sheriff’s department, is therefore exempt from the residence requirements of the statute. A sheriff’s department does exercise police functions, but it is more than a police department and sheriffs and their deputies have traditionally been distinguished from other police forces.

“The Sheriff is a constitutional officer acting both as an officer of the court and a conservator of the peace. The deputies act in the service of the public or the municipality in the performance of criminal duties, but they act as the personal agent of the Sheriff in the performance of various civil duties. Because of this identity between the Sheriff and his deputies, the Sheriff has broad discretion in appointing his deputies and removing them which differs from employment rights governing members of a police force. These broader duties of the deputies and broader responsibility of the Sheriff for their acts have traditionally resulted in distinguishing them from other police officers. Indeed, in enacting the exemptions found in the residency statute, the Legislature had no difficulty in specifying that special deputy sheriffs were exempt from the residency requirements of the statute, thereby indicating that it considered a specific exemption for that class of deputy sheriffs necessary and that they were not otherwise exempt as members of a police force.

“The language of the exemption is not broad enough to include deputy sheriffs and that the Sheriff may lawfully discipline or remove a deputy who violates a departmental ruling requiring that deputies be residents of the county. Such residence requirements do not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court has upheld the kind of residency requirement imposed by the Sheriff here.”

Langmead v. Monroe County Office of the Sheriff, 2013 WL 3759958 (W.D. N.Y. 2013).