Local religious leaders applaud city council decision to take police residency out of voters’ hands

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Religious leaders are applauding the Memphis City Council’s decision to scrap the public vote on relaxing residency requirements for police.

In a 7 to 6 vote Tuesday, the Memphis city council decided to tweak the November ballot, no longer allowing voters to decide whether public safety employees can live up to 50 miles outside of Memphis.

Last year, the council chose to put the issue on the ballot but now, the rules will remain — newly hired police and firefighters must live within Shelby County.

That has a group of religious leaders pleased.

“We are here today to express our gratitude and thank them for their actions,” said Linwood Dillard with Church of God in Christ.

The Memphis police director fought to loosen residency requirements, saying it would broaden the applicant pool and help them get to minimum staffing of 2,200 officers.

The mayor echoed those cries, pointing to research that suggests the city needs about 700 more officers on the force to get a grip on the rising violent crime. Tuesday night, Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted the council’s vote “will result in less police officers and more crime.”

But a group of local religious leaders said additional officers won’t solve the problem.

“The way the data has been presented to us has been shallow and has not provided to us with the information we need to represent the will of the majority of citizens,” Rev. Earle Fisher said.

“Our current policy has only proven is that there is a greater issue that will not be resolved by additional officers,” said the Rev. Rosalyn Nichols.

And some of the council members who voted to remove the measure from the ballot believe there are other ways to tackle crime like addressing poverty.

“Now is the time for a deeper dive and a change in our community,” said council member Patrice Robinson. She said they’ve formed a committee to help come up with a comprehensive plan on police reform.

“When that comprehensive plan is done, then we can measure and monitor it,” she said.

Police Director Michael Rallings also issued a statement Wednesday, saying in part “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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