Memphis voters might get called upon next year to decide whether people who live up to 50 miles away from Shelby County can serve as police officers or firefighters.
This will only happen if seven out of 13 Memphis City Council members decide next month to approve a referendum for the November 2020 elections.
Councilmember J Ford Canale, who proposed the idea, said Memphis currently has about 2,100 police officers, but city officials want 2,300 by 2021.
“We need everything at our disposal to be able to hire good men and women in uniform,” Canale told The Tennessee Star Tuesday.
“At the end of the day if someone is responding to an emergency call for you, whether police or fire, does it really matter to you where they live if they’re about to save your life?”
But Council member Martavius Jones said he’s against the proposal.
“I don’t think it will go anywhere in addressing the police shortage. If you look throughout the country you have a number of police departments that have no residency restrictions, and they are still facing the same shortage,” Jones said.
“So, if the contention is if we allow those who live outside of Shelby County to be a part of the Memphis Police Department then it will help us address our police shortage. If you look at other departments that hasn’t been the case, whereas those that do not have residency requirements are facing the same shortage we are facing.”
The Star asked Jones to provide examples of other cities where he says this has happened.
Jones did not provide any examples.
Canale said Memphis is the only large city in Tennessee that requires city police officers live within the county.
“By us passing this ordinance all we are doing is allowing it to be on the ballot in November 2020. If the voters of Memphis say no then it won’t happen,” Canale said.
“This just gives us a chance to let the voters speak. I don’t think we should do anything to restrain the voters’ voice. Give them the option. If everyone on the council thinks Memphians are against this then we will see in November 2020.”
Council members will likely decide whether to send the matter to referendum on Dec. 17, Canale said.
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