KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, police officers could soon be allowed to live outside city limits, if a bill in the Missouri legislature passes.
Senate Bill 53 is a compilation of provisions relating to law enforcement, but the piece that would remove residency requirements for KCPD has garnered attention. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Parkville) represents District 34, which covers Platte and Buchanan counties, and sponsored the bill.
"I don't believe somebody's address dictates how they're going to perform their job or their commitment to the community," Luetkemeyer said.
Luetkemeyer said he has heard from police officers who want this change so their children can attend different school districts or so they can live closer to family.
"The fact is, it's just getting increasingly difficult to recruit police officers because the job is getting increasingly more difficult," Luetkemeyer said. "So I think it's no question that removing the residency requirement is going to enhance the city's ability to recruit more officers."
But Democratic Sens. Greg Razer, Barbara Washington and Lauren Arthur – who also serve the Kansas City area – voted against the bill.
"Kansas City has decided – from our mayor, our city council, our police chief, I think the vast majority of my constituents – that we want our police to live in the city," Razer, who represents District 7, said. "And that didn't fly well with certain members here in Jefferson City, so they decided to intervene in what we decide as a community."
KCPD was not available for an interview, but a spokesperson said Chief Rick Smith maintains that he likes the residency requirements the way they are now. Officers must move into the city within one year of starting academy.
Gwen Grant, with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, opposes the bill from an equity standpoint. He said he believes officers will be "empowered with weapons over people with whom they have no connection."
Officers who live in suburban and rural areas will, according to Grant, "have very little knowledge other than the negative information of Black and brown people and their humanity, which is emblematic of the change we have when white police encounter black men because they have been criminalized."
KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas also opposed the bill.
"At a time that our police department, particularly our rank and file, are working at their level best to make sure they have strong community connections, to get this bizarre idea out of Jefferson City that has nothing to do what anyone really in Kansas City was requesting is exceedingly disappointing," Lucas said.
However, Luetkemeyer said he believes the bill will improve trust within the community.
"There have been studies done that have shown that in major metropolitan police departments where the residency requirements have been removed, it actually results in a more-diverse police force because you have a broader recruitment pool," Luetkemeyer said. "So you see the number of minority officers increase."
Razer and Washington pushed to change the bill, which now the bill states that officers must still live in Missouri and no more than 30 miles from the city limit.
Before, the bill stipulated that officers could live 60 miles away from city limits. That would mean someone living in Savannah or Sweet Springs could be on the Kansas City police force.
Even with the change, Razer said he still couldn't support the bill.
"Sen. Luetkemeyer was able to hijack the police reform bill and tie it to his bill, putting us in a terrible position deciding how we're going to vote on this," Razer said.
S.B. 60, which prohibits officers from using choke holds but doesn't impose a punishment and prohibits police officers from sleeping with detainees, was wrapped into this bill.
"If you have a bill that relates to law enforcement, and there are some police reforms that relate to law enforcement, it seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to join those issues together and send them as a package to the governor," Luetkemeyer said.
Republican Sen. Mike Moon also voted no, but because he said the entire bill violates Article 3, Section 21-23 of the state's constitution, which limit amendments to bills, detail how bills move through committees and limit the scope of bills, respectively.
The bill passed out of the Senate, 30-4, and heads to the House.
Seven weeks remain in the legislative session.