It ain't over yet, but the big City Council fight over police residency has been at least temporarily resolved in favor of those city officials wanting to cast the recruitment net beyond the borders of Shelby County. Arguably as important is the fact that a stalemate based
essentially on the color line was finally eased. And the determining factor in persuading African-American council members Harold Collins and Janis Fullilove to cross over and join in a compromise solution was common sense, not politics.And that's perhaps most important of all.
There is even a perverse merit of sorts to one aspect of the compromise: the annoying attachment of a $1,400 penalty clause, whereby those new recruits living outside the county but within a 20-mile range of it must pay a de facto fine for the privilege of helping their cityside brothers and sisters control crime within the corporate limits of Memphis. Given the general economic severity of the time — unaccompanied so far by serious reductions in cost-of-living expenses — accepting the hard duty of police work under those circumstances amounts to genuine sacrifice and commitment to mission on the part of the affected new officers.
The other major condition attached to the compromise is that the window for these extra-county hires is scheduled to close at the end of the current year. That seems to us unnecessarily restrictive, but it's entirely possible that the Police Department's shortfall — almost 10 percent of the budgeted positions are currently unfilled — can be taken care of by then. The other side of that recession coin is that there must be at least a fair number of unemployed or underemployed individuals within that 20-mile range who have credible law enforcement experience and need the kind of job that's suddenly available to them in nearby Memphis.
The plaintiffs who have tried to block implementation of the new ad hoc residency rules ran into an initial check when Chancellor Arnold Goldin declined to issue the injunction they sought. But they will try again, pitching much of their case on the issue of discrimination, alleging that qualified black applicants have been turned away without cause.
Such an argument has always been at the heart of the dispute over relaxing residency requirements for police. But the fact is that the department has made a conspicuous effort in recent years to maintain a racial balance among new police hires roughly equivalent to the black-white ratio in the city's population. And police director Larry Godwin has, to our mind, given satisfactory assurances that he will seek to maintain such proportions within the expanded recruiting area.
The real issue is that law enforcement, like justice itself, should be color-blind. We find it a tad odd that people who would be scandalized at the faintest hint of racial profiling in dealing with suspects are, in effect, advocating it for the police personnel themselves.
Mayor Herenton has his problems these days. But he can still make perfect trenchant sense, as when he said last week, "I need more officers. I don't care what color they are." Amen, Mr. Mayor.