Memphis City Council votes to take police residency referendum off November ballot

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — City council members Tuesday voted 7-6 to remove a question from the November ballot about where Memphis Police officers live.

The police department wanted to hire hundreds of new officers to fill its ranks. In an effort to boost recruiting, leaders want to allow officers to live up to 50 miles outside the city.

The measure was scheduled to be on the ballot in November for residents to decide, but that changed change Tuesday as city council members voted to take the decision away from the public.

Mayor Jim Strickland made his displeasure known on Twitter after the vote.

“Tonight, the voters of Memphis were told their voices do not matter,” Mayor Strickland said. “Council’s vote will result in less police officers and more crime. It’s unfortunate some members of the body couldn’t put their trust in the very people who elected them.”

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, however, was in support of the city council’s vote.

“I am glad the City Council read the room and showed Memphians that they matter,” Sawyer posted on social media. “We don’t need more police and we definitely don’t need more police who don’t live in our city or county. It’s been nationally proven that leads to more LOE abuse and we don’t need anymore of that.”

The issue came under scrutiny after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where only 8% of the city’s police force actually live in the city.

Council member Michalyn Easter-Thomas co-sponsored the effort to remove residency requirements from the ballot. She said there are a number of factors that contribute to the high crime rate in Memphis.

“The need for police and safety is always going to be there,” she said. “However, we cannot ignore the larger problem in our city which is poverty, and it doesn’t matter how many police you have. If we still have poverty in Memphis, the crime will still be there.”

But Memphis Police Dirkector Mike Rallings expressed dismay at council’s vote.

“Yesterday, particular members of the Memphis City Council refused to allow the citizens of Memphis to vote on residency and possibly clear the path for the removal of a hurdle that is impacting public safety,” Rallings said in a statement. “While I am disappointed in their vote, I am yet still committed to hiring qualified and compassionate people who choose to serve our community. “

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