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Police residency bill advances as Memphis City Council approves resolution opposing it

Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 7:04 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2022 at 4:56 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Where should Memphis police officers be allowed to live? Who gets to decide?

Those questions are at the center of a debate playing out at Memphis City Hall and 200 miles away at the state capitol in Nashville, where lawmakers are pushing a bill to do away with residency requirements for first responders.

House Bill 105 would allow newly hired Memphis police officers to live outside of Shelby County.

Supporters say it will help with recruitment in a city where officers are desperately needed.

“We’re here today because this area of Tennessee, crime has risen exponentially, and your police chief is asking for help,” said Representative Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.

Of the eight lawmakers in the House sponsoring the bill, only four represent parts of Shelby County. Memphis City Council debated and later approved a resolution expressing its opposition to the bill.

Some council members say police should live in the communities they serve. They also criticized the bill only applying to Memphis.

“If this is good for Memphis, this should be good for every county in the state of Tennessee,” said Councilman Martavius Jones.

Jones also took a swipe at Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis, who traveled to Nashville last week along with other public safety leaders to show her support for the bill.

“The fact that the police chief went up there really undermined the decision of this council,” Jones said. “The council has spoken.”

The Memphis Police Department did not respond to a message seeking comment from Davis about Jones’ remarks.

Other council members like Patrice Robinson expressed concerns with state lawmakers interfering with what she and others believe should be a local issue.

“I do not agree that the state should tell us what to do, because then they become council members rather than state representatives and senators,” said Robinson.

Councilman J.B. Smiley, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Tennessee governor, questioned the motives behind the bill.

“This is not about violent crime in the state. It’s about folks outside Shelby County who want to tell the City of Memphis how to handle its affairs,” said Smiley. “If this legislation is passed, I will call on this body to do everything in this power to push against it.”

But other council members, like Chase Carlisle, said the council is to blame for taking the issue off the ballot two years ago.

“All we really needed to do was put one simple question forward to roughly the 150,000 people that vote,” Carlisle said.

Councilman Worth Morgan, who is running for Shelby County mayor, said if the council had brought the issue to the voters, the state wouldn’t be involved now.

“We are in a different circumstance than other counties, other municipalities, and jurisdictions around the state. It is a more desperate situation in Memphis. The people know it, the numbers reflect it, and the state’s responding to it when the city council did not,” said Morgan.

The council’s resolution passed by a vote of 9-3-1. Councilmembers Canale, Morgan, and Colvette voted against it. Carlisle abstained.

HB 105 allowing newly hired officers in Memphis to live outside Shelby County passed through committee and now heads toward a final vote in the Tennessee House.

State Representative Jesse Chism unsuccessfully tried to attach a sunset provision to the bill.

State Senator Brian Kelsey sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which was approved by the Senate last year.

Davis did not attend the hearing in Nashville Tuesday. Instead, she stayed in Memphis to update city council on recruitment efforts, detailing the changes she made over the past six months, including increasing the number of recruiters and conducting monthly job fairs.

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