Will ending St. Louis' residency rule really reduce crime?
For decades, people in St. Louis have argued about whether letting city cops live outside the city would be good or bad for crime. Now that state lawmakers have intervened to grant permission, supporters are on the hook to make sure it actually makes a difference.
Last week, the Missouri House of Representatives passed Bill No. 46, loosening restrictions on residency for St. Louis police officers and other first responders.
In a 25 to five vote, legislators voted in favor of allowing city officers to live within an hour of St. Louis, repealing the original 1973 requirement of residency within city limits.
The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Mike Parson.
The five legislators who voted against the bill, most representing the St. Louis city area, say the addition of more officers may do little to battle the city’s crime rates — in particular, they questioned whether widening the hiring radius would even attract more officers.
In 2018, when recruiting was at a low point, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department relinquished residency requirements through a waiver program for newly hired officers
According to St. Louis police Sgt. Keith Barrett, there was only one formal request for a residency waiver, which was denied by the director of personnel.
Still, Jimmie Edwards, director of the Public Safety Department, believes that House Bill No. 46 is critically important to strengthening the police force in St. Louis.
As for requirements for the vacant officer positions,“I’m certainly not interested [in officers] that don’t love our city; that aren’t racially and gender-sensitive to our city. I want people that want to be police officers, that love our city, that love serving and protecting, but who will be reflective and respectful of the citizens in the city of St. Louis,” Edwards says in an interview.
While noting that the recruiting process will not be easy, Edwards believes that the additional officers, whether new or transfers from different agencies, will be key to preventing crime.
Asked for the specifics on how additional officers will bring down crime rates, Edwards says, “Those officers will be able to address a deterrence issue. So, if officers are available, very few criminals will engage in criminal activity if there’s officers standing on that particular street — just the sheer number of officers will help.” While he acknowledges that more officers will not eliminate crime, he states that this “will be a very small piece, a one-component part of the enforcement and deterrence of crime in the city of St. Louis.”
City legislators and aldermen have voted against lifting these residency restrictions in the past, citing concerns similar to those still present today.
“Our police are being stretched by responding to violence, by trying to prevent violence, by responding to many protests,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said last week during a livestream.
Krewson says that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has about 140 vacancies that need to be filled.
Edwards remains hopeful that the perfect 200 officer candidates could still be out there.
“I think we’re short in every single district. I have never gone to a community meeting in the city of St. Louis where the citizens tell me that they have a sufficient amount of police officers,” he says.
Supporters of the bill argue that it will allow more applicants from the surrounding areas to fill officer positions, strengthen the public safety measures for the city and, hopefully, decrease crime.
Representative Rasheen Aldridge (D-St. Louis) was one legislator who voted against the bill, saying that “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.”
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, many opponents of the bill argue that Black residents have historically been abused by police and marginalized, creating a dynamic that ensures conflict — enhanced further by outsiders of the community.
In response to these concerns, Krewson told her Facebook audience, “You don’t all work in the town that you live in." She added, “We’re a very transient society, so I think it’ll work fine.”
“It doesn’t matter to me whether you were born in the city of St. Louis or not; you can be a bad person or a good person either way,” Edwards says. “I just think that argument fails on its face because we all have implicit bias issues.”
Attorney General Eric Schmitt similarly praised the bill in a Facebook post, stating that St. Louis police will finally be able to “put more boots on the ground.”
“I appreciate the legislature’s hard work in passing this important bill, and I look forward to Governor Parson signing it into law,” he wrote.
The bill is now awaiting Parson’s signature. The governor proposed repealing the city's residency rule as part of a package of measures he says will reduce the city's crime problem.
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