Four of the six candidates for mayor think it's time to allow Philadelphia to recruit police officers from outside the city.

Democratic candidates state Rep. Dwight Evans, businessman Tom Knox, and ex-Councilman Michael Nutter and Republican Al Taubenberger favor relaxing the city's stringent recruitment rule.

Currently, only people who've lived in the city for a year can apply to become a police officer.

The candidates don't want to jettison the basic city residency requirement: Once hired and invited to attend the Police Academy, a new police officer, like all other city employees, would be required to live in the city.

But allowing out-of-towners to apply would increase the pool of police candidates when the number of uniformed officers is likely to grow in the next administration.

It's a view that is privately shared by a number of top police officials, who say the department's ability to recruit is hamstrung by the residency rule at a time when the city is exhausting recruitment lists faster than in the past.

The remaining two mayoral candidates, Democratic Congressmen Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah, want to keep the current rule, though Brady says he might change his mind if the new police commissioner pushed for it.

Mayor Street, meanwhile, is vehemently opposed to changing the pre-employment residency rule.

When legislation to do so, sponsored by City Councilman James Kenney, was approved by Council in late 2001, Street vetoed it.

In his veto message, Street noted that the pre-employment residency requirement "helps our residents, and doing away with it hurts the very people who by their choice to live in Philadelphia, for whatever reason, have displayed in a very basic way their faith in the city . . . Why should perfectly qualified city residents with roots in our city have to compete for some of the most sought-after jobs in the country? We will first hire our own!"

A similar bill now languishes on the City Council calendar as Kenney tries to find a veto-proof majority.

"My contention is that changing the residency rule is in the best interest of city government," Kenney said. "We're obviously having trouble recruiting police officers. Look at what the New York City Police Department does. They send a recruiting van down here and park it outside [Lincoln Financial Field]."

Mayoral administrations, including Mayor Street's, have recruited top officials from all over the country into senior, non-civil-service positions, Kenney said. "Why not make that apply to the rest of government? New people would have to become city residents once they are hired."

To be hired as a Philadelphia police officer, applicants must first pass the police civil-service exam. Those who pass are subjected to other tests, including a physical exam and a background check.

Applicants who pass all the tests may be hired and invited to attend the Police Academy, which is a seven-month process.

Kenney and Council have already waived the one-year pre-employment residency rule for active-duty military personnel who want to become police officers, enabling them to take the police civil service exam and be hired. Once hired, recruits have six months to establish city residency.

The debate over the pre-employment rule has gained increased significance because all of the mayoral candidates say they want to increase the uniformed police force.

Nutter wants to add 500 officers in three years, Evans wants 500 in four years, Knox wants 1,000 in five years, while Brady, without clarifying the mix, wants to hire 1,000 police, probation and parent truancy officers.

Fattah wants to increase the force but has not said by how many. And Republican Taubenberger says he wants to hire 600 officers over four years.

The problem is that any buildup has to occur at the same time the department is losing officers to retirement.

So, for example, if the department loses 30 officers per month [though in calendar 2006, it lost more than 40 per month], it would need to hire 1,440 officers over four years just to stay even.

Add a buildup of 500 officers to that recruitment task and the department would be hiring almost 2,000 officers in four years and putting almost 500 trainees through the academy each year.

Police officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said the department is already stretched to meet the goal of building up the uniformed force by a net 200 officers by the end of June.

"Law enforcement officials recognize there's a nationwide competition for and a shortage of qualified candidates," one police official said. "When you are limited to city residents, you have a significantly smaller pool of candidates, and that creates disadvantages for the Philadelphia Police Department."

As the department builds toward a uniformed force of 6,624 - reflecting the 200-officer increase - it has almost exhausted the 2005 and 2006 recruitment lists, which are meant to last two years each.

The department is now planning to offer another competitive exam in May.

"We've gone through the 2006 list pretty quickly, in fact, about as fast as I've ever seen," a top police administrator said.

In 2005, there were 12,385 applicants, of whom 2,862 took the test and 2,236 passed. In 2006, there were 3,051 applicants, yielding 2,304 who took the test and 2,092 who passed.

The list of those who pass shrinks substantially as some applicants decide not to attend the academy or fail the various background, physical and other tests.

If these trends continue, police officials fear that fewer people will take the test and fewer will pass at a time when the departmental manpower needs are increasing. *