City may expand residency requirements for Memphis police, firefighters

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In an effort to improve recruitment and retention, the City of Memphis has re-energized a referendum to allow officers to live within two hours of the city.

For those in support of the new referendum, allowing police officers and firefighters to live within two hours of the city is simply adding another tool to recruiting and retention. If they can offer another option to potential officers, they will.

“We want to reduce any barriers to hiring qualified people who might want to serve the citizens of Memphis," Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the City of Memphis said. "It’s similar to what happens in other municipalities, and we are in a competition for talent.”

But the most contentious part of the debate revolves around the officers committing fully to the City of Memphis.

“Why should we let these high-paying, middle class jobs leave our city?" City Council member Martavius Jones said. "So my contention is, we would have an out flux of people with high-paying jobs leaving the city.”

"They’re still coming into work," Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said. "They’re still running into burning houses. They’re still running to the sounds of gunfire. We just need to really be practical about it.”

According to numbers provided by the city, about 12% of police officers and firefighters live outside Shelby County. Those were grandfathered in after the current residency requirements were established 14 years ago. Expanding that allowance might help add to a staff that has been trying to grow toward 2,500 employees.

“We’re looking for every opportunity," McGowen said. "As you saw in those numbers, about 12% of your first responders live outside. So as the Police Director said, if we had a 12% bump in our immediate, we’d be at 2,300 already.”

This issue will be picked back up in two weeks at Memphis City Council with an expanded presentation expected.

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