Updated at 5 p.m. with comment from Mayor Lyda Krewson ST. LOUIS — A second officer who applied for one of Mayor Lyda Krewson’s residency waivers recently learned his request has been denied.
In a Sept. 3 memo to Chief John Hayden, city Personnel Director Rick Frank said police trainee Thomas Bossch is not eligible for a waiver that would allow him to move out of the city limits after he is hired as an officer.
The memo stated that there are already enough police trainees in the pipeline who do not need waivers, therefore, the city Civil Service Commission can not approve a waiver for him.
The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association filed a grievance on the residency waiver issue in May when Ryan Lynch, the first officerto ask about a waiver, was told he didn’t qualify because he already lived in the city and the charter doesn’t allow him to move out.
The union believes the waivers should apply to all officers, not just those hired after the announcement. The union amended the grievance this week to include Bossch’s case.
“The employer is publicly dangling residency waivers that the city apparently cannot issue under its own regulations in order to give the appearance that it is pursuing a resolution to the police department staffing crisis by addressing the residency issue ... The de facto truth is, there is no police residency waiver program. There never was,” according to the grievance.
The city’s police department is about 135 officers short of full strength. Krewson has said the department suffers from a shortage of qualified city residents interested in joining its ranks.
Frank said there are 54 recruits in the city’s police academy and his department sent over this week 125 names of police applicants who passed the initial screening process and are ready to undergo police department background checks. Those applicants are willing to remain in the city or move to the city, Frank said, adding that he could not comment on the Bossch matter because it is a personnel issue.
The Board of Aldermen struck down a bill last week that would have allowed voters to abolish the requirement for all employees.
Krewson said she is “frustrated” by the board’s decision, and that the Civil Service Commission that once promised to offer the waivers appears to have changed course. Frank serves as secretary to the commission, which is composed of three members appointed by the mayor, but Frank’s office operates independently of the mayor.
“I’m going to go back to Rick Frank and we will try to get this figured out,” Krewson said. “I would rather (a residency waiver) be pursued for all employees, however that doesn’t mean I would oppose something that was more limited. We have a lot of vacancies. We need mechanics, tree trimmers, folks with (commercial driver) licenses and while the police vacancies are the most urgent, the other skill sets you need to run a city also are important to me.”
For decades, the residency issue has been debated, legislated and litigated.
Supporters of the residency requirement said having officers live in the city they patrol invests them in the community and makes them better officers.
State legislators also have tried changing the rules. State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, filed a bill that would have repealed residency requirements for all municipal police departments earlier this year, but it went nowhere.
The Police Officers Association has opposed the residency requirement since it was enacted for police in May 1973. Over the years, pensions have been threatened and families have lived apart to avoid violation of the policy, said Jeff Roorda, St. Louis Police Officers’ Association business manager.
Both Lynch and Bossch have special needs children and want to live in the county because they prefer to have Special School District services for their children as opposed to the city’s special needs program, Roorda said.
He spoke on their behalf, saying the department forbids officers from speaking to the media.
About 550 of 1,870 police department employees already live outside the city limits. They won that right in 2005 when the police commissioners decided to allow officers with seven years of service to live outside the city. Back then, the department was run by the state.
The city regained control of the police department in September 2013.