The Memphis Shelby Crime Commission recently sent a letter to City Hall asking Mayor A C Wharton's administration to restore funding to the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush data-driven policing program. But a handful of Memphis City Council members say they were never made aware of any cuts to the MPD's budget for Blue Crush.
This morning, the Memphis City Council called on MPD director Toney Armstrong to explain the current state of Blue Crush and whether or not funding cuts had affected use of the successful crime-fighting program.
Armstrong said Blue Crush has remained strong, despite previous comments Armstrong made to media outlets over the past few days. But Armstrong did admit that Blue Crush wasn't being funded with traditional methods.
Armstrong said budget cuts have forced him trade comp time in lieu of payments for officers who work on Blue Crush details. The funds that could have been used to pay for Blue Crush had to be spent on necessary upgrades to equipment and fingerprinting technology and mandatory hepatitis shots for employees, Armstrong said.
"Yes, I have the funds in my budget [for Blue Crush] but there were other unfunded obligations we had to meet," Armstrong told the council.
Memphis City Councilman Jim Strickland blamed the Wharton administration for denying the MPD a $2.3 million request for overtime pay for Blue Crush detail.
The police division had requested $245 million for its overall budget, which would have included the money for Blue Crush overtime pay. But the department was given $238 million instead. Strickland accused Wharton of "dismantling" Blue Crush, citing a document from the city's Zero Based Budgeting Committee that specifically says $2.3 million was cut from "overtime for Blue Crush" for the 2013 budget. Also, a December 2012 email from MPD deputy police chief Jim Harvey specifically stated that the "Blue Crush overtime budget was cut from all precincts."
Strickland's data also clearly showed a reduction in Blue Crush details from 2010 to 2012. There were 824 details from July to December 2010, 257 details from the same months in 2011, and 336 details from July to December 2012.
But city CAO George Little, representing the Wharton administration, argued that Blue Crush is not a line item, implying that Armstrong makes the decisions on how to use his budget to fund that program. The council has requested more information from Armstrong, and they will discuss the matter again in a few weeks.
Blue Crush was launched in 2006 by former MPD director Larry Godwin. It utilizes crime data to determine hotspots where police are deployed.