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Memphis Loosens Residency Rules to Attract Recruits

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A year after the Memphis City Council relaxed its residency requirements to attract more police officers and paramedics, a push is on to loosen the rules even more.

Councilman Jim Strickland is proposing to allow Memphis police officers, Fire Department paramedics and Emergency Management Agency employees to live anywhere outside Memphis as long as they can report to work "upon two hours notice."

In an interview Monday, Strickland said he generally believes city workers ought to live in Memphis, but he said an exception needs to be made to recruit more emergency personnel, particularly police officers.

"We are desperate for applicants. Crime is our number one problem. It's endangering the lives and the safety of our citizens. It's hurting our economic development," he said.

In a 2004 referendum, city voters approved a charter amendment requiring all future city employees to live inside Memphis. But in January of last year, the council loosened that rule in a series of resolutions for police and paramedics, allowing those employees to reside in Shelby County, but with a preference given to Memphis residents. A two-year time limit was put on that exemption.

Strickland, who was among nine new council members to take office Jan. 1, wants to cast an even wider net for recruits that would allow employees to reside in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee counties outside Shelby. "If they live in DeSoto, Fayette, Tipton or Crittenden, I think that's where it's really aimed," he said.

His proposed resolution, which will be heard this morning by the council's Personnel, Intergovernmental & Annexation Committee, comes just months after the Memphis Police Department dropped its college requirement in an effort to bolster recruiting efforts.

Memphis has a goal of hiring 500 officers in the next five to six years, including 118 hired in 2007, to address manpower issues. The department has had a complement of about 2,000 for several years.

Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware, a vocal advocate of the charter amendment passed in 2004 by nearly 68 percent of voters, called the latest proposed change to the city's residency rules "ridiculous."

"The voters overwhelmingly decided that anybody working for the city of Memphis needs to live in the city of Memphis. For us to tinker with that," Ware said, "is an insult to the people that voted for it."

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