Mixed reaction after police residency referendum removed from November ballot

Mixed reaction after police residency referendum removed from November ballot

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis City Councilwoman says there needs to be an emphasis on "quality over quantity" when it comes to hiring officers for the Memphis Police Department.

After a 7-6 vote Tuesday, the Memphis City Council voted to remove a referendum from the November ballot that would amend a charter to allow Memphis Police officers to live outside of the city but within 50 miles of city limits.

Mayor Jim Strickland expressed his concern over the decision Wednesday.

“There [are] real consequences, and a year or two from now when we see a drop in the number of officers and/or an increase in the level of crime... I think we can point to that event being a real pivotal moment,” Strickland said.

Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen is one of the members who voted in favor of rescinding the referendum.

She believes the answer to less crime is not more officers.

“To have individuals that do not pay city taxes, pay county taxes, they aren’t stakeholders... to come into the City of Memphis and work and leave without making any contributions we felt was not necessary,” she said.

The decision comes despite a poll by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission that shows 77% of people who responded were in favor of letting voters decide on the issue.

Mayor Strickland says Memphis Police have had a net gain of 200 officers within the last three years

The Department currently has under 2,100 officers with a recommendation of 2,800.

"The data is irrefutable," Strickland said. "In Memphis there is a direct correlation in the number of police officers and the level of violent crime. I've lived it on the council and as mayor."

Councilwoman Swearengen says there needs to be an emphasis on community policing with individuals who know the community working together to address the root of the problem.

"Poverty leads to crime and we need to firstly address that," Swearengen said.

Councilwoman Swearengen says he Public Safety Task Force will continue to meet with constituents bringing in social workers and consultants, and then they'll decided best hiring practices for City Police Officers.

MPD Director Mike Rallings released the following statement regarding the vote:

"Yesterday, particular members of the Memphis City Council refused to allow the citizens of Memphis to vote on residency and possibly clear the path for the removal of a hurdle that is impacting public safety.

While I am disappointed in their vote, I am yet still committed to hiring qualified and compassionate people who choose to serve our community.”

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