Bill to allow police to live outside St. Louis advances
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A panel of Missouri senators on Tuesday advanced a bill that would temporarily end a decades-long requirement that St. Louis police live in the city.
The Senate’s public safety committee voted 5-2 in favor of the measure, which would lift the residency requirement for police, firefighters and other first responders in the city through 2023. The bill could come up for debate and a final vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday.
The bill gained traction in Missouri as protesters outraged by George Floyd’s death in Minnesota police custody have renewed calls for a community policing model, where officers are encouraged get to know their precincts and focus on deescalation.
Missouri Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, a St. Louis Democrat and frequent protest leader, said allowing police to live outside St. Louis could contribute to tensions between police and communities.
“You’re talking about officers that don’t culturally understand why these communities have so much anger all the oppression that they’re currently going through,” Aldridge said.
He said depending on where police are recruited from, the change could also mean fewer police officers of color patrolling a city that’s almost evenly split between Black and white residents.
The current bill would allow officers to live within a one-hour response time of St. Louis, which is 48% white and 45% Black, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2019.
Counties tend to get whiter farther out from St. Louis. About 68% of St. Louis County is white and 25% is Black. St. Charles County is almost 90% white.
There are still disparities among St. Louis police compared to the city’s population under the current residency rule. Roughly 67% of St. Louis police are white, according to data provided by the agency. Another 30% are Black.
The St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners enacted the residency requirement in 1973. The rule is still in place and requires police to live in the city for at least seven years before moving.
Former U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, who pushed for the change during his time as a St. Louis alderman, at the time told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the the residency requirement would “help the city financially and make it a safer place to live.”
Rules that police and city employees live where they work rose in popularity in the 1970s, said Peter Eisinger, a retired New School professor who studied residency requirements.
He said Black mayors led the push for those policies as a way to diversify majority white police forces, employ more Black workers, and boost local tax revenue and the economy.
Washington University’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Equity Associate Director Geoff Ward said in an email that residency rules were aimed at bringing the racial makeup of police forces more in line with the surrounding community.
The hope was that doing so would help put a stop to “the experience and perception of racially hostile ‘occupying armies’ of white officers in black neighborhoods,” he said.
“I do not know that residency requirements ever achieved those ends,” Ward said. “But I don’t see any signs that this government is motivated by these kinds of questions – by issues of police legitimacy and community trust and cooperation.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson called to end the residency rule in the city as a way to boost recruitment for the understaffed agency and better fight a surge in crime in the city, which has for many years ranked among the nation’s most deadly.
Local officials elsewhere are trying to implement residency rules. Rochester, New York’s mayor is asking for the state legislature’s help in requiring police to live there, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported.
“Having our police officers live in the community they protect and serve will build relationships and strengthen our neighborhoods,” Mayor Lovely Warren told the newspaper.
Krewson didn’t get support from the St. Louis city council so instead asked the Republican-led Legislature for help. Since then, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted to put the residency rule before St. Louis voters Nov. 3, but state lawmakers continue to work on the issue during a special session on crime.
St. Louis Police Commissioner Colonel John Hayden on Tuesday told senators that the residency requirement is the top barrier to hiring more officers, according to city police recruiters and surveys. He said the agency is down 145 officers.
“We desperately need more officers, and we need them now,” he said.
Lawmakers pushing the change have cited better and more specialized schools outside the city and the safety of officers’ families as reasons police want to live outside the city.
Critics say the focus should be on addressing the root causes of crime and making St. Louis a more attractive place to live.
“The problems in our city were created by decades of aggressive public policy that helped white communities and hurt Black communities,” said Jeanette Mott Oxford, of Empower Missouri, during an earlier House hearing on the bill. “The solution isn’t to let folks who can somehow escape, but rather to invest in every community so that we’re all communities of opportunity.”