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Police chief hopeful after residency law change

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden is optimistic that the removal of the residency requirement for his department will help fill several vacancies – perhaps leading to a net increase of about 100 officers over the next year.

The department is authorized to have 1,349 officers but is currently 129 officers short.

On Monday, Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a law repealing the long-standing residency requirement. Hayden said Tuesday in a Public Safety Committee meeting that he was hopeful the change would lead to double the number of applicants for city police officer jobs.

Firefighters and other first responders are also covered by the new law.

Critics — including the state NAACP conference, state lawmakers and other elected officials from St. Louis — slammed the police residency bill as taking away control from city voters, who will weigh in on the rule Nov. 3. Now, the voters’ decision on that issue won’t matter, because state law supercedes local law.

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.

St. Louis lawmakers argued that hiring police who are not from the city or don’t currently live there could exacerbate divides between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Hayden released updated statistics showing the city had 36 percent more homicides through August, compared with a year ago. He said 114 of the 185 homicides through August had been in June, July and August. As of this month, the city has surpassed the 194 killings for all of 2019.

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