The St. Louis police board – the state panel that controls the city’s 1,360-member police department – appears poised to revoke the rule that officers must live within the city limits, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Since the directive was enacted in May 1973, officers have fought it, saying they should have a right to live where they choose. They cite the troubles of the city’s school system and the difficulty of living near the same people they lock up.
Now that Republicans control both the governor’s office and the Legislature, police officers might finally have the advantage they need. If the board changes the rule, it could trigger a wave of firefighters and municipal workers – who also must live in the city – to push for the same. The situation dates to the Civil War, when a state legislature sympathetic to the South put the city police under state control. The new Missouri governor, Matt Blunt, a Republican who was endorsed by the police officers’ association, wants to end the residency requirement. About one in four U.S. police departments have a residency requirement, says Michael White of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The conventional wisdom among supporters, White said, is that being connected to the community they serve makes better police officers. White says, there are no hard data to back up that assertion.