Friday, July 10, 2009

New Officers: Geography v. Competency?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 10, 2009 at 1:23 PM

Sure, the mayor's Clash-like dilemma, and the resulting on-again, off-again mayor's race, has dominated the news, but other things are still happening.

For instance ... the City Council continued its more than year-long struggle Tuesday to employ a full complement of police officers.

Earlier this year, the job of hiring police officers was transferred from the Memphis Police Department to the city's Human Resources division. The City Council also voted in a resolution that would allow officers to live 20 miles outside the Shelby County line but those officers would have to pay a $1,400 fee.

The Council then said that officers who live inside the city limits should get preference for the positions, which brings it to its current dilemma.

Human Resources director Lorene Essex said they create a roster first based on each person's ability and performance and then they sort the applicants into three pools depending on if they live in Memphis, Shelby County, or outside the county lines.

Under the legal interpretation of the council action, the Memphis applicants are then given first priority.

"People from the county are being told they have no shot. Maybe that's based on their test scores, but the process you're describing seems inherently unfair," said Councilman Shea Flinn.

At the same time, the police department has been recruiting nationally, especially from communities where law enforcement has seen lay-offs.

"This creates a disparity based on performance," Flinn said. "We've heard Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware say many times that we can recruit from wherever, but they can move inside the city. This is a problem that needs to be fixed."

Several other council members also reiterated their intent that MPD get the most qualified officers.

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Ware suggested the problem was one of the council's making.

"It would not be a problem if we weren't trying to make room for folk that live ... outside Memphis," she said. "I sincerely believe that if we have applicants who are living in Memphis, or willing to live in Memphis, they should get preference."

Essex said she also wanted the best and most qualified applicants possible, and suggested the council re-visit the resolution. The committee will revisit the discussion in a few weeks.

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