by Toby Sells
Staffing levels in the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and Memphis Fire Department (MFD) are running at or below minimum levels as the departments work six months into this year’s city budget, which came with some big cuts to public safety.
Benson said MFD is currently running 133 pieces of equipment (fire engines, ladder trucks, and more), which require 1,538 firefighters to operate them. But his department now only has 1,479 firefighters. To fix the equation, Benson said he has had to pay more monthly overtime.
But when the department hits an overtime maximum level in a month, Benson said he has had to temporarily idle some trucks at some stations, in so-called “brown-outs.” Since September 1, 2013, 136 trucks have been temporarily idled in different stations around Memphis.
“If there’s a brown-out in one area, then it takes longer to respond in that area,” Benson said. “If four areas are browned out, then it becomes a coverage challenge and a response time issue for us.”
MFD reported fewer fires in 2013 than the previous year.
Police director Armstrong was asked to cut about $23 million of his proposed budget of $241.5 million last year. He had to cut a recruitment class for new officers, “and this has meant fewer policemen on the streets, a reduction in arrests, a reduction in traffic enforcement, and less proactive policing.”
The funding cut has also meant slower promotions through the ranks of the MPD and less office and administrative help, which means more clerical responsibilities for police officers.
Still, the city is still safe, Armstrong said, pointing to a 4.5 percent overall reduction in crime from 2012 to 2013. But he said he was only willing to cut so much from future budgets if he felt the public safety was at risk.
This all comes as city council members prepare for what will be a turbulent budget season that could target even more public safety jobs. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has asked them to pay an additional $15 million in next year’s budget to begin a five-year plan to shore up a $709 million hole in the city’s pension plan.
A recent study by consultants Public Financial Management said the city could save more than $40 million in the next five years with work force reductions. Police and fire positions comprise nearly 75 percent of all city jobs.