ST. LOUIS • Up to 50 of the next police recruits hired to be officers will not have to live in the city they patrol.
Mayor Lyda Krewson announced Friday that the Civil Service Commission at her behest will waive the city’s residency requirement, which has mandated that police officers live in the city for their first seven years on the job.
She believes the move will help boost recruitment for the department, which is dozens of officers short of a full roster.
“Public safety is my No. 1 priority. We have been running two Police Academy classes at a time, we started a cadet program, we have advertised, but we are still down between 130 to 150 officers on any given day,” Krewson said in a prepared statement. “This is an issue of public safety. Waiving the residency requirement will help us broaden our recruiting efforts.”
The new policy will not affect any of the city’s current officers, according to Krewson’s office.
And recruits who get residency waivers will have to live within an hour’s drive of the city.
The city’s charter does not allow officers to move outside the city once they’ve been hired. So lifting the residency requirement for any current officers or those currently in the academy would require a change to the city’s charter. That requires a 60 percent vote from the public.
Chief John Hayden has voiced support for lifting the city’s residency requirement entirely in the past, saying once in an interview shortly after Krewson appointed him as chief in 2017 that there are many sides to the debate.
Some say having officers live in the city they patrol makes them more invested in the community, and, therefore, better officers. But, Hayden said, living in the community you are sworn to protect and serve as an officer can create conflicts when crime involves your neighbors or people connected to them or your own family. Having a separation from victims and criminals is also important for impartiality, he said.
Department spokeswoman Officer Michelle Woodling said Hayden was unavailable for an interview Friday, but he issued a prepared statement saying he was “thankful” for the mayor’s request and the commission’s approval.
“As I have attended numerous community meetings across the city this year, I have listened to citizens’ legitimate concerns about their personal safety,” he wrote. “My biggest challenge in addressing their concerns has been my 150-officer deficit. Today’s decision is a step toward replenishing our ranks so that we can provide greater safety, security and service to our citizens.”
Jeff Roorda, St. Louis Police Officers’ Association business manager, said the news was a “step in the right direction.”
“We’ve expressed to the mayor’s office repeatedly that wages and residency are both impediments to recruiting and retaining new officers and I’m glad to see they’re listening, at least a little bit,” he said.
Voters recently approved a tax increase that funded bumps of $6,000 in pay and $4,000 in benefits for officers, but Roorda said it wasn’t enough.
“It came at a time when St. Louis County officers got a $12,000 raise and other municipalities were raising their salaries by even more,” he said. “Six percent across the board was little more than a Band-Aid on an amputation.”
Roorda said he expects the shift in the residency requirement to also boost the department’s ability to recruit minorities.
“The applicants we get who are city residents have attended schools that haven’t prepared them for rigors of the police academy,” Roorda said.
Rick Frank, the city’s director of personnel, said the residency requirement and criminal checks weed out many potential applicants.
He believes eliminating one of those obstacles will give the city a broader base to choose from. “It’s like we’ve been fishing from the same pool,” Frank said.
He said 40 percent of people who show an interest in becoming an officer at job fairs balk at the idea of living in the city.
“For some, it’s because of the school system, and for others, it’s economic,” Frank said. “They simply can’t afford to sell their house and purchase or rent a new one.”
Frank said the Civil Service Commission will have to approve the waivers annually for those who ask for them. Given the commission’s history with approving waivers for corrections officers, Frank said he expects commission members will also grant them for officers and he expressed support for the idea at a meeting Thursday.
But recruits who have lived in the city for at least one year will still be given points for doing so on their applications, Frank said.
“We’ve now raised our starting salary to $41,000, which then jumps to $48,000 after six months, we have a stronger pension system than St. Louis County and we’re hopeful that this will be enough of an opportunity for people to feel that they can make that move and join us,” Frank said. “We still want people to live in the city whenever possible, but we understand that’s not always possible for people.”
Anyone interested in applying with the St. Louis police department can contact the department’s recruitment office at 314-444-5334.