City Council considers ordinance to remove police residency referendum from ballot

Council could remove MPD residency question from November ballot

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Should Memphians decide residency rules for police officers and firefighters? The City Council originally said yes. But the tide is now turning.

Memphis’ top cop says it’s getting harder to recruit new officers with existing residency rules. And there’s been serious momentum to change those rules.

Then 2020 happened.

”Let’s remember we’re 444 officers short of our 2500 goal,” Memphis Police Department Director Michael Rallings told the Memphis City Council on Tuesday.

City Council revisits police residency referendum

MPD has a manpower shortage. Rallings supports loosening residency requirements, letting anyone living within 50 miles of Shelby County apply to be the Best in Blue.

The city council was going to let voters decide in November.

That was before George Floyd was killed and protests erupted coast to coast.

”We implore every city council member to do the right thing and vote to remove this referendum,” said Dr. Earle Fisher, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church. “We will be watching closely because the vote signifies our broader, long-term commitment to police reform.”

Hours after a coalition of Black pastors voiced concern about relaxing police residency requirements, the council voted to take the residency issue off the ballot. But when Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen introduced a resolution to bring back COACTS, mini precincts to enhance community policing, Rallings repeated his familiar mantra.

”We’d love to reestablish COACTS but we don’t have the manpower,” he said. “We don’t have the manpower to man our precincts.”

Memphians are divided on residency requirements. Clark at the Moon tweeted: “Asking people with no ties to this city or its communities to protect and serve those communities sounds naive.”

Woody Savage emailed WMC Action News 5 to say “since the majority of citizens are Black, the ministers should be more than willing to let the electorate decided this issue.

”We do believe that residency matters,” said Dr. Roz Nichols with Freedom Chapel Christian Church. “We believe that substantial, systemic transformation to our existing law enforcement practices is greater served and the needs and concerns are greater than the issue of residency.”

The ordinance to remove the residency referendum from the November ballot passed its first reading at the city council meeting Tuesday. It requires three readings, three votes by the full council, to take effect.

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