TENNESSEE, USA — On Thursday, the Tennessee State Senate voted to approve Senate Bill 29 which would allow first responders to live where they choose.
The measure, sponsored by State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), would ban residency requirements for police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services workers. This bill as amended does not affect Hamilton County, officials said.
Kelsey explained that the bill is a matter of public safety and will allow police and fire departments to recruit top-tier first responder candidates, regardless of where they live. The lawmaker said that it will help the state address a deficit of police officers occurring throughout the country.
"This bill will support our police, fire officers, and emergency medical service workers who keep us safe by allowing them to live where they choose," said Kelsey. “This bill will increase public safety by enabling us to hire more police officers, which will help us fight our rising crime rates.”
Representative Jerome Moon (R-Maryville) who is sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives said, "Removing residency requirements will greatly expand the pool of highly-qualified applicants.”
According to a press release, in Memphis, major violent crime rates are up 9%, and the city suffered from a record of over 300 homicides in 2020.
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.
Officials said 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 Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTA), which provides assistance and training to municipal officials and employees as part of the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service, says that most cities in Tennessee have moved away from residency requirements due to difficulties in recruiting.
The measure has received broad support from legislators and community leaders throughout Shelby County and across the state, officials said.
“Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency personnel across our state are on the front lines protecting us every day. They need the support of all citizens and legislators, and I believe when this legislation is passed, the leadership of these departments will be enabled to hire the staff they desperately need," said Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington).
Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said, "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."
“Eliminating residency requirements provides public safety agencies with an opportunity to consider a broader selection of candidates who have a desire to serve the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County,” said Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner.
The bill also has support from the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission as well.
In addition to increasing public safety, this measure will also save taxpayer dollars, officials said.
Officials said that during the last fiscal year, the City of Memphis spent over $25 million on overtime pay for officers.