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Relaxed residency requirements could mean more qualified applicants for vacant police positions.

A flashy car and a cool badge apparently aren't enough to attract a sufficient number of applicants to the Memphis Police Department (MPD), currently understaffed by about 100 officers.

But police officials hope the Memphis City Council's recent decision to allow officers to live outside the city limits will help find applicants for vacant positions.

"For the past three to five years, we've just barely been keeping up with attrition, and if you add in the fact that we've been annexing and we just opened up a new precinct, we're somewhere on the order of 90 to 125 officers short," said Vince Higgins, public affairs officer for MPD.

The City Council voted last week to temporarily exempt police officers and paramedics from a 2004 referendum requiring all city employees to live within the city of Memphis. Officers and paramedics hired in the next two years can live anywhere in Shelby County.

Higgins says the problem isn't finding applicants but rather finding qualified applicants who can pass the academic requirements, physical demands, and firearms tests required by police training. By expanding residential boundaries for new officers, MPD hopes to avoid lower training standards.

"In the past, [the department] has lowered the standards by giving waivers to felons, but we've found that to be counterproductive," said Higgins. "I don't think the citizens of Memphis want the standards lowered."

Currently, the department doesn't hire anyone with a felony background or anyone who has a DUI conviction on their record. Applicants must have completed two years of college or active military duty, pass a psychological exam, and be at least 21 years old.

Because the department is understaffed, some officers due for a promotion haven't received it yet.

"We can't promote sergeants because we'd be depleting uniform patrol," said Higgins. "It's a domino effect. Once we get more officers, we'll have more latitude with the promotional process."

But not everyone's pleased with the change. City Council member Joe Brown voted against the measure because he didn't feel comfortable changing something the citizens enacted by referendum.

He also worries that hiring outside the city limits will affect the applicant pool for positions at the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

Before the 2004 referendum, Memphis police officers could live anywhere inside the county line. Officers hired before 1980 can live anywhere within a two-hour drive.

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