Memphis Police could see more cuts - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Memphis Police could see more cuts

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

The number of Memphis Police officers will likely drop by more than 20-percent by the end of 2014.

Police Director Toney Armstrong and Fire Services Director Alvin Benson explained Tuesday what happens when you cut millions of dollars from public safety. The police and fire departments are changing the way they do business, making do with less, less money, older equipment and fewer officers.
 
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Director Armstrong said his department is losing quality officers and he can't replace them. The city council's public safety committee summoned the public safety directors to city hall for the start of a long and complex discussion about the future of police and fire services in Memphis.

"It has adversely affected us," Director Armstrong. "It's going to take us some really, really aggressive recruiting efforts going forward to catch up. It might even take us years to catch up."

The budget passed by the city council this year cut MPD funding by more than $6 million, cutting a recruit class, promotions, and overtime. The number of police officers has dropped from nearly 2,500 to about 1,900 sworn officers.

"Going forward with a declining police force, it's going to be nearly impossible for us to continue to offer officer offered services at that level," Director Armstrong said.

Officers won't be able to respond to every call like they do now, Director Armstrong added.

"At some point we're going to have to look at are we going to continue to answer non-emergency calls: traffic, burglar alarms, those types of things," Director Armstrong added.

Both Armstrong and Benson were called to city hall to brief the council's public safety committee.

"We're going to have to be more efficient," Director Armstrong said.

Each director was allowed only two-and-a-half minutes to address council members because of a tight schedule. They described a dim situation, with no improvement in sight.

"We're at our lowest numbers that we need to be at the fire department," Director Benson said, who added he can't come up with more cuts.

The fire department already cut the number of engines and instituted a brown out policy that shuts a unit down on a rotating basis to save money. Even the fire director calls the practice risky.

"We don't want to put public safety at risk," Director Benson said.

The mayor's office and city council have some tough decisions ahead.  

"Whether we had two-and-a-half minutes or two-and-a-half hours this is going to be something that continues with us right up until we vote on the budget in June," said Councilman Shea Flinn.

The city is going to have to spend more to shore up the pension system for police officers, firefighters and other city employees. But even without the pension situation, the city likely will have to cut spending, and police and fire money accounts for much of the city's budget.  

"We're really going to have to reshape what services we deliver and how we deliver and how we deliver them or, we're going to have a substantial tax increase," Councilman Flinn said.

Councilman Flinn reminds us this same city council voted to expand the police department years ago. Now they're eliminating these jobs by attrition.

Though he was only given two-and-a-half-minutes to brief council, Director Armstrong said he could use about an hour to explain what's going on inside the police department.
 
This debate over the future of public safety in Memphis is just beginning.

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