Weekly Update: How we're working on MPD staffing


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In my first nine-plus months as your mayor, few things have occupied as much of my time and energy as our police department.

We’ve worked on a number of fronts, and one is obvious -- our desire and goal to reduce violent crime. But there’s a common thread that weaves through all of our efforts: the staffing levels of our department.

So today, I wanted to bring you up to speed on a few tangible pieces of action we’ve taken, including a pair of initiatives you probably saw in the news this week.

We have a plan to bring back pre-65 subsidized health insurance. To those outside of City Hall, this topic may be dense, so I’ll explain it plain terms. When we took office, our team was intentional about listening for ideas to retain employees -- particularly public safety employees. They said that restoring subsidized health insurance to retirees younger than 65 (who aren’t eligible for Medicare) was a major priority and would help incentivize them to stay.

So this week, we presented a plan to do just that. We listened, we acted, and now we have a plan to save the pre-65s. 

We’re continuing to get feedback and field questions from retirees and employees, and I will make a final decision soon.

We’re creating the Blue Path. This flew under the radar this week, but it’s a big deal and a program I’m proud of. Partnering with Southwest Tennessee Community College and Tennessee Promise, the Memphis Police Department will employ high school graduates as police service technicians while they work toward an associate’s degree at Southwest, funded by Tennessee Promise. Once they get that degree and turn 21, they can take the next step -- becoming a commissioned police officer.

How neat is that? And if you know of a high school senior who may be interested, refer them to bluepathmemphis.com.

We have a high number of police officer applicants. As of this week, we have received more than 1,800 applicants since June, when we started our recruiting campaign. We're currently engaged in a recruit class, and another one starts in March. We know that only a small percentage of applicants typically enter the academy and graduate, but the larger the number we start with, the better off we are.

For comparison’s sake, we usually receive about 500 applications a year.

We’re still taking applications for that March class through Nov. 4 at joinmpd.com.

That’s not all, of course. These are just the items that are fairly recent or active. You’ll recall we made a big step back in April, simply by reaching an agreement with the Memphis Police Association that included pay raises as large as 3.75 percent for our police officers. It avoided the contentiousness that has characterized past labor battles and rewarded our officers. In addition, we listened to the officers and created a new level of advancement -- Police Officer III.

And as I have told the officers, these are the first steps among several where we better compensate them for their service.

So, why am I sharing this today? For one, I want you to know of everything we’re doing to recruit and retain officers and strengthen our police department. It’s a major, major priority.

I also want you to realize there’s a common theme with all of these actions: They will take time to show dividends.

But it’s part of what you hired me to do. You asked me to put into place real, long-term solutions to the real, long-term issues that face our city. You asked me not to hide from them, and you asked me not to take the politically easy route. These issues can hardly be solved by a Band-Aid here and there.

The tradeoff to long-term solutions, though, is this: It will take time to see the effects. I ask that you remember that in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Be sure to vote: Early voting started this week for the Nov. 8 election. As I told you last week, there is an issue on the ballot concerning the City of Memphis.

Just to recap: The amendment would fairly allocate how we share payments from Memphis Light, Gas & Water among the suburban cities and Shelby County. The city would stand to receive some $5 million more annually if this passes -- no small sum when it comes to our financial picture. Even more, this will have no impact on MLGW rates.

I plan to vote in favor of this amendment, and I hope you do, too.

Great work alert: Remember when we said it would take four to six weeks to complete a project to alleviate congestion on Walnut Grove Road? Well, our crews just completed it in two weeks.

In response to citizens who travel this road daily and grew frustrated at the congestion, the city extended the eastbound turning lane and westbound acceleration lanes on Walnut Grove west of Farm Road. The work was completed by city personnel, materials and equipment.

These extensions will provide some relief for peak-hour traffic. It’s not a long-term solution, though, and the Shelby Farms Parkway project is still under evaluation.

But in the meantime, I say thanks to the Engineering and Public Works employees who designed, planned, and implemented this project. It’s great work, and I hope it’s a visible demonstration of our commitment to being brilliant at the basics of city government.

Crosstown, not cranes: I hope you saw my guest column in Thursday’s Commercial Appeal that celebrated the nearly $7 billion in recent, current and planned development in our city. Seven billion dollars! And the best part? It speaks to our city’s character that the highest-profile projects are re-uses of places some had written off.

Congratulations, Big River Crossing: The Big River Crossing path over the Harahan Bridge -- which was funded mostly by private and federal dollars -- opens tomorrow. Visit Big River Crossing’s website for more details.


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