JEFFERSON CITY — Police officers throughout Missouri would no longer have to live within the cities they serve under a plan given preliminary approval by the Missouri House Wednesday.
Supporters said scrapping the mandate could help fill scores of vacancies in St. Louis, boosting the ability of the police department to fight crime in a city that saw 194 homicides in 2019.
“They are in drastic need of support for officers on the ground,” said Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, who sponsored the legislation. “We need to free up the city of St. Louis.”
If approved, officers would be required to reside within an hour’s response time of their headquarters.
The legislation initially only affected St. Louis, but was expanded via an amendment by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, to include all other Missouri municipalities, including Kansas City.
Schroer said residency requirements stifle the ability of cities to recruit a diverse workforce.
“If it’s good for St. Louis, it’s good for the entire state,” Schroer said.
“It is not necessary to live in a community to be dedicated to it,” added Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, who is a former police chief.
But some St. Louis Democrats opposed the proposed change, despite the police force having an estimated 138 vacancies.
“There is no stat that says more police equals less crime,” said Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis.
“I don’t think that changing residency is going to change the problems,” added Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City.
Price also said Republican lawmakers who don’t represent the city should not meddle in the city’s business.
“You don’t actually speak for anybody in St. Louis city,” Price said of Schroer.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, called the efforts “ridiculous.”
“Don’t target my city. Don’t target my voters,” Merideth said.
In January, Krewson, along with St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden and St. Louis Police Officers Association President Jay Schroeder, traveled to Jefferson City to advocate for lifting the requirement.
Krewson turned to the Legislature after the city’s Board of Aldermen rejected a plan to ask voters to repeal the residency requirement through a city charter amendment. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is understaffed by an estimated 138 officers.
Under current law, all full-time employees of the St. Louis police department must live within the city limits, according to the city charter. New hires have 120 days to take up residence in the city if they aren’t already living there.
The measure needs one more vote in the House before moving to the Senate for further consideration.
The legislation is House Bill 1604.