Monday, September 11, 2017

State Lawmakers Review Memphis Hiring Policies

Posted By on Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 12:32 PM

click to enlarge JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker

State lawmakers pondered residency requirements for Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers Monday leaving one Senator to ask if a new, pre-emptive state law could help the city hire more cops.

The Senate Judiciary Summer Study committee reviewed residency requirements for hiring policies in Tennessee cities in general. But the review was initiated with Memphis’ shortfall of police officers, lawmakers said. However, there is no pending bill on the matter.

“The city of Memphis now has a 600-officer shortfall and we wanted to meet to see how that can be addressed and is there anything the state can do to address that,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), the committee’s chairman.

MPD has a bit more than 1,900 officers and wants a complement of about 2,400. Memphis City Council member Worth Morgan and MPD Deputy Chief Terry Landrum described to lawmakers a police department that is struggling to recruit and retain law enforcement talent.
For example, the latest MPD recruitment class garnered 2,000 applicants but graduated only 85. Also, Landrum said MPD is a target for recruiters from police departments in Dallas, San Antonio, Nashville, Bartlett, and Germantown.

Morgan described city policy on residency requirements, a policy that has changed with several voter referenda going back to 2009. The policy now requires city of Memphis employees to live within Shelby County. However, employees hired before the rule was approved by voters can live as far as two hours away from Memphis.

MPD Deputy Chief Terry Landrum told lawmakers that the patchwork of rules that apply to different MPD employees makes for “difficult” administration issues. But the current residency requirement, he said, “kills us” on recruiting new officers.

Loosening those requirements would help “cast as wide of a net as possible,” Morgan said. The topic is a point of “constant conversation in the hallways and chambers” of Memphis City Hall. However, while he said he was for looser residency requirements, the political climate may not be right in Memphis right now.

“It would be a big fight if we were to try to open it up back to that two-hour window,” Morgan said. “I’d be willing to have it but I’d have to count to seven [get seven votes from other council members]. I’m not sure I could get to that number.”

But he also urged caution from state lawmakers to leave the issue a local matter. Though many Senators seemed to agree, at least one seemed willing to step in.

Sen. Janice Boling (R-Tullahoma) said state lawmakers are sworn to focus on the education, transportation, and public safety needs of state citizens. She asked if the Senate considered legislation that would pre-empt the city charter on residency requirements “would that solve the problem?”

Morgan said state pre-emption “would not be well received” by some in Memphis but he’d “be excited to have as many good applicants as possible.”

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