Officials, citizens react to residency requirement vote - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Lori Brown

Officials, citizens react to residency requirement vote

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The Memphis City Council's rejection of a plan to ease residency requirements for the Memphis Police Department sparked a firestorm of debate Wednesday.

The vote - six for easing the residency requirement and seven against - was split along racial lines.

  • White council members Bill Boyd, Kemp Conrad, Shea Flinn, Reid Hedgepeth, Bill Morrison, and Jim Strickland voted for relaxing police residency rules. 
  • Black council members Joe Brown, Harold Collins, Edmund Ford Jr., Janis Fullilove, Wanda Halbert, Myron Lowery, and Barbara Swearengen Ware voted against it.

Despite the fact that the vote that came down along racial lines, council member Myron Lowery said race was not the issue.

"It's not race or color," he said. "The color is blue. We need more men in blue."

Lowery said he voted against relaxing the residency requirements for police officers because that's what the majority of Memphians wanted, despite the public comments during Tuesday's meeting that were lopsided the other way.
"Citizens have voted overwhelmingly in two referendums that they want employees of the city to live and work in the city," he said.

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin urged the City Council to relax the residency rules so the department can hire the number of officers it needs.

Lowery says the police department needs to do a better job at recruiting inside and outside Shelby County.
"I think the police department's not trying hard enough," he said.

Council Member Jim Strickland was not sure why the vote was split on racial lines.

"We have so many home invasions going on right now, that we've got to do something about it," Strickland said.  "We shouldn't care if the officer is male or female black or white, or where they live."

There are some rumblings that if the boundaries for police officers were expanded, fewer African Americans would be on the force.

"I think that's definitely an undercurrent," Strickland said. "No one explicitly says that."

Citizens of Memphis were also divided on the issue, with opinions crossing over racial lines.  Christopher Drain, a resident of south Memphis, said the city should expand its boundaries outside of Shelby County to hire more officers.

"I think we should go outside Memphis, because some of the Memphis police officers - they're no good.  And you know, we need better officers," Drain said.
Construction worker Roili Hulvin disagreed, saying if the police department tried harder, it could recruit the officers it needs just from Shelby County.

"I think if they give them the right payroll and send them to school, they'll have enough police officers," Hulvin said.

Ramona Simmons of Midtown agreed.

"I think you have more invested in the community when you live there," she said.

Christy Moore of Collierville said Memphis needs to do whatever is necessary to hire more officers.  According to Moore, the crime rate in Memphis was one reason she moved away from the city.

"As long as they show up and do their job, it doesn't matter where they're from," she said.

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