Updated at 2:10 p.m. Jan. 22 with House committee action
Legislation that would remove residency requirements for St. Louis police officers passed out of Missouri House committee Tuesday evening.
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, has a similar measure that was heard in a Senate committee on Wednesday.
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After years of city officials trying to end the residency requirement for police officers in St. Louis, lawmakers in Jefferson City are expecting to get it done.
Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, is sponsoring legislation that will lift the requirement, and he said he has the support needed to make it law.
“Right now, we have a clean bill,” Hicks said in a committee hearing on the proposal on Tuesday. “We have a good path through the House; we have a good path through the Senate right to the governor’s desk. He himself told me he’ll sign the bill if we can get it there the way it is written.”
Currently, St. Louis police officers must live inside city limits for at least seven years. This legislation would allow officers to live anywhere that is within a one-hour response time to their precinct.
Mayor Lyda Krewson and Police Chief John Hayden would like to see the requirements changed. They both believe this will help with retention and recruitment problems the city is experiencing.
“We have the greatest need for officers and the most demanding criminal environment in the state of Missouri,” Hayden said at the hearing. “Yet we have the greatest barrier to becoming an officer by discouraging applicants with the residency requirement.”
Opponents of the proposal say they are concerned with the community’s growing mistrust of police and worry if officers do not live in the neighborhoods they are working, it will only deepen the divide.
Last year, aldermen defeated a bill that would have asked voters to reverse the residency requirement for all city employees. Opponents of dropping residency blamed the personnel department for vacancies in the workforce for failing to respond to people who applied for jobs.
Hayden said the St. Louis department often competes for eligible applicants with the St. Louis County Police Department, nearby municipal police departments and the Missouri State Highway Patrol — none of which has a residency requirement.
St. Louis is short roughly 140 officers, Hayden said, which has been the case for years. The No. 1 reason for officers leaving is to take a position at another department.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, and the St. Louis Police Officers Association also back the effort.
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