State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) on Wednesday filed SB 29 which would allow first responders to live where they choose, the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement.
Kelsey posted on the caucus’ Facebook page, “This is a public safety bill. It will enable us to hire more police officers, which will help us fight our rising crime rates.”
The bill would ban residency requirements statewide for police officers and firefighters, the caucus said. Kelsey said the bill will allow police and fire departments to recruit top tier first responder candidates, regardless of where they live. In particular, it would help Tennessee address a deficit of police officers occurring throughout the country.
State Representative Jerome Moon (R-Maryville) said, “This bill addresses the needs of our local law enforcement and emergency services agencies, ensuring they have one of the most valuable resources — sufficient personnel — to protect our citizens and keep our communities safe.”
In Memphis, major violent crime rates are up 9 percent, and the city suffered from a record of over 300 homicides in 2020, the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus said. In addition, a recent analysis by Drs. Richard Janikowski and Phyllis Betts of Strategic City Solutions revealed that the Memphis Police Department is understaffed by several hundred officers and that as the number of officers in the police force increases, the levels of violent crime in Memphis decrease. In December, the city council adopted a resolution acknowledging that the city is over 400 officers short of its hiring goal.
The new bill would seek to remedy the lack of law enforcement officers by applying the practices adopted by many local police departments statewide, the caucus said. The Municipal Technical Advisory Service, which provides assistance and training to municipal officials and employees, says that most cities in Tennessee have moved away from residency requirements due to difficulties in recruiting.
“Like many police departments, we continue to struggle with staffing,” said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings. “Although we work hard to hire within Shelby County, it is unrealistic to believe that we will be able to increase our number of officers if we do not broaden our scope of candidates. Dropping the residency requirement would allow us to hire more individuals who want to serve our great city.”
Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, said, “This law will help us keep our citizens safe by allowing us to hire an untapped group of the best and brightest candidates from across the entire region. Potential fire fighters won’t need to weigh their desire to protect the public against forcing their family to uproot and move due to an antiquated residency requirement.”
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.