Weekly Update


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I’ve been asked about our police staffing situation quite a bit recently, so I thought I’d focus this email on sharing those answers. But to truly understand it, it’s worth knowing how we arrived here, too.

We have hundreds fewer police officers now compared to five years ago for three reasons:

  1. Normal attrition -- such as retirements and resignations -- that averages approximately 100 officers per year;
  2. Failure to hire enough officers between 2012 and 2015; and
  3. Employee benefit changes made in 2014.

First, like many businesses or organizations, the Memphis Police Department loses about five percent of its officers every year. The following list of departures per year shows attrition both before and after the benefit cuts:

2012 -- 90

2013 -- 117
2014 -- 168
2015 -- 185
2016 -- 149

Second, our police recruiting dropped to the point that it could not outpace even the usual annual attrition, much less the increased attrition that came from the benefits changes. Consider this chart:

MPD Academy

I’ll sum it up: In the four-year span from 2008 to 2011, 726 officers graduated the academy -- an average of 182 per year. From 2012 to 2015, 162 officers graduated the academy -- an average of 41 per year. Beginning in 2012, the city decided to cut back on recruiting and classes. In 2014, there wasn’t a single class held.

That’s a decrease of 564 new hires.

Third, between 2014 and 2016, about 170-200 more officers than normal left the department. It is clear that they left as the result of benefit changes made in 2014.

Here’s why those changes happened: The losses our pension fund took in the recession, coupled with the city not funding our pension nearly as much as it should have, prompted tough decisions a little over two years ago. By 2013, the state Comptroller sent us a letter raising the specter of state intervention in our finances if we didn’t address the situation, and by 2014, the state passed a law mandating that we fully fund our annual pension contribution by 2020. That required a $50 to $60 million shift in our $600 million-plus annual budget, all while revenues weren’t growing as much as we’d like.

Among the many budget choices we made to ensure the health of our pension fund? Shifting $23 million from annual retiree health care funding to the annual pension contribution. That vote was made in the summer of 2014, and we have seen increased attrition levels since then.

Today, we have 1,972 commissioned officers, down 19.6 percent from our peak of 2,452 from November 2011.

We are working to restore staffing so that we can 1) relieve the stress the current staffing situation places on our department, 2) fully implement community policing, and 3) fully implement data-driven policing.

The good news? We’re making progress on that right now. Thirty-one officers joined the force this week, and a class of approximately 100 begins the academy in March. We’re working to recruit another 100 to the class that begins in September. If all goes as planned, the two classes that start in 2017 will mean the first net increase of officers in six years.

Despite all the noise, there continues to be interest in becoming a Memphis Police officer. You know by now that we had 2,000 applicants last year; we normally have 500 in a year. Even more, we had a good group of PSTs start last year, thanks in no small part to our Blue Path program.

Returning recruitment to the 2008-11 levels, coupled with the establishment of this new pipeline through the Blue Path/PST initiative, means we’re building sustainable, long-term ways to ensure we don’t face this situation again. Public safety is too important a task for city government to be in this spot.

I don’t yet know what the end game is. Do we need 2,452 officers? More? Fewer? All I know for certain is this: We all agree we need more than the 1,972 we have today, and I am committed to commissioning a study in the future to determine what the precise full complement should be.

I hope you now know the full story, and you see that my office is doing everything in our power to staff the police department to aid it in its fight against violent crime.

Holiday collection schedule: Monday is Presidents Day, which will affect garbage collection schedules for city-serviced homes. If you’re a Monday customer serviced by a city crew, service will come Tuesday, and no other days will be affected. Customers of our contractor, Inland Waste Solutions, will not be affected.

Call to Action: You surely know by now the benefits of mentoring, so I encourage you to jump in. Better yet? If you’re a business or part of a group, visit The Giving Hour’s website to learn how you can partner so that we can multiply the impact on our young people.

Great news for North Memphis: I’m proud of the city-involved partnership that helped land a $1 million grant this week in the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge. It’ll go to help North Memphis grow equitably as major investments happen all around.

Take the survey: The Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization asks you to take a two-minute online survey to provide input on how freight impacts your day-to-day travel and activities.

A day with the mayor: That’s exactly what WREG-TV anchor Richard Ransom wanted one day back in January, camera and microphone in tow. Sure thing, we said. The result was this two-part piece that Richard aired on the Tuesday evening news. I hope you enjoy it.

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