MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis city council members heard major changes Tuesday to a proposal to lift Shelby County residency requirements for public safety employees. The push comes from the Memphis police director as a way to increase the department’s applicant pool.
A number of things about the proposal were amended in committee, and council members later suspended the rules and voted on the changes downstairs in full session for the first time. The measure passed. It requires passage three times by the council to put the question to voters.
“We are grossly understaffed,” said MPD Director Mike Rallings.
He says new changes to the pending residency question would further complicate police hiring by creating a fourth residency category within the department.
“It just blows me away,” said Rallings. “I can’t understand. I walk away more frustrated every time, and I just hope we can come to some resolution.”
Rallings and Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration have asked council members to put the police and fire residency question back to voters.
Currently, police officers and firefighters must live within Shelby County. The proposal at hand would allow officers to live within two hours of the city.
But that was changed in committee Tuesday.
The amendments included a preferential hiring system for applicants who live within Memphis city limits, the establishment of a take-home car program for MPD and limited hiring to neighboring counties within a 50-mile radius of the city.
Ford Canale is the measure’s sponsor who proposed the changes. Some council members previously expressed concern about the two-hour exemption.
“We have one mission here, and that is to put more men and women on the streets,” said Canale. “You’re talking about public safety, and we can sit here and argue it back and forth. But that’s not putting officers back on the street.”
“I’ll live with whatever,” said Rallings. “This is just very frustrating.”
Rallings says MPD is at 2,056 officers today, but studies show it should be at 2,500.
One of the amendments also specified that the recruiting exemptions only be allowed when police and fire are below laid-out staffing levels.
The mayor’s office wants voters to weigh in next fall, provided the council gives them a chance.