JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are considering a proposal that would no longer require police officers to live within the cities where they serve.
The state House gave the bill preliminary approval on Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. It needs one more vote in the House before heading to the Senate for further debate.
Advocates for the legislation said removing the mandate could help fill scores of the estimated 138 vacancies in the St. Louis police department, augmenting it's ability to fight crime in a city that saw 194 homicides last year.
"They are in drastic need of support for officers on the ground," said Republican Rep. Ron Hicks, who sponsored the measure that is backed by St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and GOP Attorney General Eric Schmitt. "We need to free up the city of St. Louis."
If approved, officers would have to reside within an hour's response time of their headquarters. The city charter shows that all full-time workers of the St. Louis police department must live within the city limits under the current law. New hires are required to move to the city within 120 days if they already don't live there.
The initial legislation solely impacted St. Louis. However, it expanded when Republic Rep. Nick Schroer amended the measure to include all other Missouri municipalities.
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.
GOP Rep. Lane Roberts, who is a former police chief, noted that it isn't necessary to reside in a community to be devoted to it.
But some of the city's Democrats oppose the suggested change.
"There is no stat that says more police equals less crime," said Rep. Wiley Price of St. Louis.
Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal echoed Price's sentiments.
"I don't think that changing residency is going to change the problems," she added.