Bill banning Memphis police residency requirement advances in Tennessee House

Memphis Police Association President Essica Cage and Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis listen as...
Memphis Police Association President Essica Cage and Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis listen as State Rep. Jeremy Faison speaks during a Tennessee House subcommittee hearing about a bill to end police residency requirements in Memphis.(Tennessee House of Representatives)
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 4:38 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A bill to change where Memphis police officers can live is one step closer to becoming a law.

House Bill 105 easily advanced through a state House subcommittee Tuesday morning.

A last-minute amendment means the bill will only apply to Memphis and not to other cities across the state.

Police residency has sharply divided the Memphis City Council for years, and the debate has now moved from city hall to the state capitol.

The Memphis city charter says newly hired police officers and firefighters must live in Shelby County.

But a bill making its way through the Tennessee legislature would prohibit residency requirements for first responders.

The bill says “a local government shall not have a residency requirement for first responders as a condition of employment.”

State Representative Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, is sponsoring the bill in House.

“This is a piece of policy that is requested by the ones who have their boots on the ground, the ones who are actually doing the work, the ones who see the need day in and day out,” said Faison.

Tuesday morning, Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis, Memphis Police Association president Essica Cage, and other Memphis leaders attended a subcommittee hearing to support the bill.

Supporters say the bill will help with recruiting by expanding the pool of applicants.

The Memphis Police Department stepped up recruitment efforts in recent months.

The department offers a $15,000 sign-on bonus, $10,000 in relocation assistance, and a starting salary of $45,623.

State Representative John Gillespie told Action News 5 last month that it’s not enough, and that’s why he and other Memphis Republican state lawmakers are pushing for the state to intervene.

“They are several hundred officers short in the Memphis Police Department,” said Gillespie. “I believe that certain times the state has the prerogative [to intervene], especially when it comes to public safety.”

But State Representative Larry Miller, a Democrat who also represents part of Memphis, criticized the legislation after an amendment was added Tuesday morning, which clarified the bill would only apply to Memphis and not to other cities across Tennessee.

“Now we’re here, again, once again, preempting local government and focusing in on Memphis,” said Miller. “I’m a little offended by that, a little insulted by that.”

State Representative Jess Chism, another Democrat of Memphis, said he shares Miller’s reservations.

“It makes it seem like Memphis doesn’t have what it takes to keep Memphis safe,” said Chism. “I believe that we can find people in our backyard who are qualified to do this work.”

The bill advanced out of the House Cities and Counties Subcommittee and now goes to the Local Government Committee for consideration.

State Senator Brian Kelsey is sponsoring the Senate’s version of this bill.

None of the Memphis leaders in attendance spoke at Tuesday’s hearing. But they may speak at a future hearing.

The Memphis City Council was considering putting this issue back on the ballot for voters to decide later this year, but that’s now on hold and may not be necessary should this bill become state law.

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