It was my hope, maybe naive hope, that the issue of residency rules for Memphis Police Officers would not divide the City Council down racial lines, but it did. We could have argued for residency rules based on so many other reasons: economics, effectiveness, or civic pride to name a few. But instead the City Council has allowed itself to be seen as a group divided by race. A charge it should have done all in its power to have avoided.
In a city where we are ranked second in the nation in violent crime and first in property crime you would think we could come to a consensus rather quickly. I understand and appreciate the importance of taking care of our own first. Insuring a Memphis job for a resident of Memphis is reasonable and the work of an officer goes beyond the 9 to 5. Who wouldn't want a cop living next door to them? Such neighbors create stability in communities and build civic pride. With that in mind I can't fault those Council members who supported residency.
On the other hand Memphis is dangerously deficient in police officers compared to other cities our size. For years MPD has rolled out the welcome mat for Memphians to join the force with little success; issues such as previous offenses and limited education has plagued many residents who have applied.
In the end the most important thing is that we have the officers on the beat. I appreciate Harold Collins resolution to allow the city to hire police officers who live within twenty miles of Shelby as long as they pay a $1,200.00 yearly fee. This might take some of the heat off those non-residents, but to me this seems overly punitive and that might be the last thing we want to do right now.
My recommendation would have been two-fold. First, for the short term we open the hiring process to any one capable and willing to serve no matter where they live. If we must show favoritism then create a point system. A few consideration points if you live outside Memphis but in Shelby County and a few more points in you actually live in the City. Second we look long term and start devoting more resources to early career path recruitment. I have spoken with Robert Lipscomb who heads “THE” LeMoyne-Owen College Board and suggested that LOC become an early training site for youth considering joining the police force in the future. This would not only improve the college’s declining student numbers but would pluck up youth in and around LOC before they go down the wrong path.
No matter what, we must get a handle on crime. Its impact on business growth, middle class flight, and education is well documented. So it is my hope that the Memphis City Council can do a little self policing and chart us a course to success.