Memphis Police, Fire Personnel Stretched Thin, Directors Say

Posted by Toby Sells on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 12:35 PM

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.

  • Armstrong
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong and Memphis Fire Department Director Alvin Benson told a Memphis City Council committee Tuesday that they are meeting their pubic safety goals, but their personnel is stretched thin and can’t be stretched much further.

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.

Comments (42)

Showing 1-25 of 42

Maybe it is just me, but I find all this info a bit misleading. For example, while MPD and Fire were asked to cut their PROPOSED budgets, the city has actually increased funding for the MFD by some $6 million and has increased the funding for the MPD by almost $20 million since 2012. What the hell? This goes well beyond inflation rates. What changed in 2 years in the MFD and MPD that a 9% budget increase still results in less service?

This is why a 3rd party is necessary for such matters. No government department is ever going to claim their funding levels are adequate or can be reduced just as no responsible branch of city management is ever going to suggest increased funding without justification and/or will likely always push for cuts.

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Posted by barf on 02/04/2014 at 4:33 PM

I didn't vote for a third party to set the budget for the various departments, I voted for a specific councilperson and a Mayor to make those decisions.

Every large city in the U. S. are grappling with budgets. The question is where do the citizens want to cut. But, we know the old story; don't cut my services, my police and fire protection. Yes, raise taxes if you must, however, tax my neighbor, tax my mother and my brother, tax everyone, everything, but, please don't tax me!

Well, hell, I am retired, but even I can afford 10 or twenty bucks more in taxes to keep this city adequately protected and providing services and maintaining and growing the things that improve on the quality of life here. What is that? Two less happy meals or one less pizza day; we all can afford that.

Let's face it, our police force is woefully understaffed. The cars you see on the streets are an illusion as to how understaffed the MPD is. You see, most of those cars are one man cars. It takes two or more cars with one officer in it to effectively make a safe pull over in some neighborhoods and anywhere at night. Having one car do things without adequate backup is putting the lives of both the police and the suspect in jeopardy. One car with one officer might have a tendency to over react or take a chance on being assaulted and/or worse. Response times is also fools gold. The police are here to protect and serve, not necessarily here to respond after the dirty deed has already been done. Just the constant presence of enough police cars on the streets will stop a lot of crimes.

Memphis can never be a first class city by trying to do it on the dime!

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 02/04/2014 at 5:15 PM

Fire Services had about 1,875 staff budgeted fo 2014.

They had about 1,700 staff in 2007.

There was an efficiency study / report performed by Deloitte Consulting in 2007, indicating the Fire Services was grossly overstaffed compared to comparable cities. Now, they have almost 200 more staff than they had back in that year.

Obviously, nothing was ever done to reduce and, in fact, the overstaffed 2007 department has added much more staff.

Something is "bad wrong" there, and Memphis has done absolutely nothing about it.

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Posted by JuliusJones on 02/04/2014 at 5:19 PM

Folks, it's exactly this kind of mismanagement which has your city on a disaster course.

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Posted by JuliusJones on 02/04/2014 at 5:22 PM

A previous post may have hit on something, even if it was not their intent, in saying “adequately protected and providing services”. Of course OTP then went on to say that simply throwing more money at the departments is the solution despite the fact that studies and data are showing that is not necessarily the case. It also does not address the disparity between the increased funding both departments have received over the last several years that has still led to a reduction in services. Why is it that an outside consulting group found MFD to be bloated in 2007 and yet an increase of almost 200 staff members has resulted in “brownouts” in 2013? How is it that MPD’s budget increase of $20 million (9%) in a mere 2 years is met with the now regular threats by the staff and its union of a force stretched so thin? These are legitimate issues that need to be addressed.

Of course the basic question is what is "adequately protected and served"? No one doubts that both departments need money and they would both testify that what they have, no matter the sum, will never be enough. There will always be more they could do with more money. The issue is the diminishing returns on the investment. At some point an efficiency threshold is crossed where an extra dollar does not result in an equal increase in the level of service. Recent data and studies suggest that more boots on the ground does not equate to reduced crime or a reduced incidence or severity of fire. These issues are much more closely related to social support services, education and code enforcement. So while increasing MPDs budget an additional 9% will not yield an equal decrease in crime, that same $20 million could have an enormous impact if applied to other efforts such as economic development, daycare programs for working parents, workforce training and prep, scholarships for high school graduates to continue to earn a 2 year degree, additional code enforcement officers, improved transit services connecting the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods with its largest employment centers, training and seed money for local small business startups, etc…

Fires will never be fully prevented. Crime will still occur. Response time mitigates the effects, but the event itself will still happen. So it comes down to how much would you be willing to pay for reducing response time by 5 seconds vs. the chance to prevent the incident entirely with neither outcome guaranteed?

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Posted by barf on 02/04/2014 at 5:54 PM

Has there been much discussion about combining police and fire ranks. It works in some smaller cities and I don't know if it would be effective in a city as sprawling as Memphis. The unions would definitely be against it.
I do recall a sergeant at a police academy class recommending to us students that if we saw a mugging on the street we might want to consider calling it in to 911 as as fire, because 9 burly firefighters with axes would be on the scene before the cops.

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Posted by CL Mullins on 02/04/2014 at 8:25 PM

The CA and other media outlets are being spoon fed information from the Wharton administration right now. Maybe staff for police and fire has increased from 2007 because of annexation? Anyone? Memphis has gobbled up land in West Cordova, South Cordova, near Millington, and near Collierville since 2007. And with those new areas you have to provide fire and police protection.

As far as the boots on the ground article, Wharton and his "business partners" want to compare Memphis to several other cities by population. And yes, other cities of the same population size have fewer officers but what about the area of those cities. Memphis is 324 square miles. We are one of the largest cities in the US by land area. All of those other cities range from 150 square miles to 90 square miles. It's a whole lot easier to provide adequate police and fire protection to 600,000 people within 90-150 square miles than protection for 324 square miles.

As far as the ridiculous rumors of "police officers get 72 days off a year" that Wharton provided the Council is a joke! Police and fire DON'T GET HOLIDAYS OFF! Yes we are paid for the holidays but we don't get them off! I can also say that in 17 years I have seen an officer get called to come into work because another cop called in sick. NEVER! I know the rules are different for firemen because they have to have a certain number of people to operate their equipment but for police, nope. If a cop calls in sick there is no overtime being paid to someone else to cover that cop's absence.

Do police and fire accumulate large amounts of sick time? Yes. But the reason most guys have so much sick time built up is because THEY DON'T CALL IN SICK, EVER! If a cop or fireman is hurt on the job it is of course covered by OJI. However if a cop or fireman breaks a leg, arm, back, has surgery, etc... for an injury that occurs outside of work, guess what? We need that sick time! We can't come to work on crutches and answer police calls or fight fires.

As far as our benefits being more in line with the private sector. Don't make me laugh. I have a friend at FedEx who gets 5 weeks of vacation per year plus sick time and personal time. If Wharton is hurting for money, then I suggest he either: De-annex about 100 to 150 square miles of the City, or, put a hold on capital improvements in next year's budget and move that money over to the operating fund.

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Posted by firefox on 02/04/2014 at 9:21 PM

Well all the misinformation, closing of ranks, display of ignorancethe and flat out lies that firefox just posted proves the point that the MFD nor the MPD can be trusted regarding the budget any more (likely less) than the mayors office. Of course, everyone knows that after MPD's recent billboard campaign where they were more than happy to inform us that our local police dept is inept when it comes to crime yet are more than ready to take responsibilty should numbers slide their way, that these same individuals would be more than willing to cut off their noses simply to spite their own face.

There will be many false hypotheticals and "woe is us" coming from both the MPD and MFD this budget season. Anything to protect their jobs and pensions no matter how much the tax base shrinks. They will also be quick to forget that something like 75-80% of the city's budgets already goes to their pockets- a number and % that has increased over the last several years despite a stagnant economy, stagnant population growth and unchanged municipal boundaries.

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Posted by barf on 02/04/2014 at 10:42 PM

Yes, there is a lot of misinformation coming from all sides. But, one thing is true, Memphis, per square land mile, has less cops than comparable cities in population. It is also a fact that one officer patrol manned cars are not only unsafe, but are also ineffective.

Yes, it is true that 20 million or so dollars could go a long way in helping the poor get training, daycare, etc. But, the reality is if you trained every person in the city for a trade, where will they work? There are simply not enough jobs for everyone.

Lastly, it is the more affluent people that have the perception that crime is out of hand in in Memphis and therefore more must be spent on police. People have to understand that perception is reality.

Of course there are ways to mitigate the need for large tax increases for police; hell, just put traffic details on Shelby Drive, Lamar, Popular, etc, write tickets, especially the big rigs and you will get a lot of millions in fines. Try doing the speed limit on any of those streets and you will get ran over by the speeders, especially the big rigs. Actively enforce handicap parking spaces violations, more fines, more money. But, we don't have enough officers on the streets to do this. I also beg to differ that more police on the streets doesn't reduce crime. More police on the streets definitely deters crimes.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 02/04/2014 at 11:50 PM


Lest we forget:

Lets see...

..."the crime rate is extremely low"

"It is a fact that 90 percent of all homicides in Memphis are solved within a day because those homicides are between know people."

"The reason that you have an inefficient police force is because of the economic, race divide. The white and the affluent think that the police are there to keep a boot on the, so called black crime. The violations of the peoples rights, etc. is something that does not happen in their neighborhoods and can be justified as doing what is necessary to keep those people in check."

"Yes, I believe it and numerous studies have backed me up."

"What people that look at everything Memphis in a bad light is that a lot of crimes reported initially turn out to be false. They are still reported as crimes and there is no adjusting of the figures for false reports, etc. Let us say that a person sells another a car, but retains the title until it is paid off. The buyer misses payment and the owner, seller, comes by and takes the car. A police report is made, however, it is not really a crime.

Also, when ones takes into perspective of where the crimes are committed, the nature of the crimes, crimes of passion, etc and the economic status along with educational achievement of the persons that commit crimes, Memphis is not as bad as it looks. I would dare say that in any of the muni's, if you had a large percentage of poor and less educated persons, you would see a corresponding increase of crime.

The haters of anything Memphis will not take the time to look at the figures and make sense out of it, they just want to harp on the figures itself."


.."from the sheer numbers, it is also evident that less people committed less crimes."

And also:

"I have been telling you that crime has been going down in Memphis for the last several years."

"You can even see where crime, including murders has taken a nice drop and overall crime has been receding for the last 4 years in Memphis. Of course you didn't see that because that is positive news for Memphis and we all know that is the last thing you want to hear."

But, lets not forget:

"Again, we get money from East Memphians because they chose to live here. As long as they live, have homes, shop here, etc., we will get their money the same as for any other section of Memphis. We didn't beg for it."


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Posted by QueerAnn on 02/05/2014 at 1:16 AM

Topic, first MPD, MFD, now OCD.

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Posted by CL Mullins on 02/05/2014 at 9:31 AM

Do you ever not lie in your posts? According to the USDJ, Memphis has as many if not more sworn officers and total police staff when compared to other cities of similar geographic size and of similar total population. Regarding boots on the ground, I’ll take Brookings data (among others) over your opinion any day of the week.
You just make up whatever information it takes to support your idea of the world, don’t you?

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Posted by barf on 02/05/2014 at 10:08 AM

I really thought you would be on the other side of the line on this one. I wish I could remember where I go the idea for this number and until I can confirm it should be regarded as opinion, but I read recently that Memphis had something like 5,000-10,000 unfilled positions b/c of the lack of qualified applicants. Many of these positions end up being outsourced or simply relocated to other cities where the labor pool is both of higher quality and has more depth. It is not as if I am requesting that funds be taken away from the police and the tax rate reduced accordingly. Absolutely not! I think those funds should be reinvested in quality of life measures such as those mentioned earlier. If not there, then rebuilding the city’s untold miles of crumbling streets and sidewalks. There are dozens of schools throughout the city that lack sidewalk connections to surrounding neighborhoods. The only “maintenance” performed on many of our parks and public spaces over the last 10 years has occurred when the grass is cut on average of 3 times per summer. There are more than enough holes that need to be filled that would have a direct impact on the quality of life here and on the city’s ability to compete with peer cities for both residents and economic development.

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Posted by barf on 02/05/2014 at 10:16 AM

Posted by barf:

"I wish I could remember where I go the idea for this number and until I can confirm it should be regarded as opinion, but I read recently that Memphis had something like 5,000-10,000 unfilled positions b/c of the lack of qualified applicants."
-------------------------------------- has jobs in Memphis, but it is struggling to find qualified workers

"They reported sifting through at least 20 applications for every person hired in lower-level jobs and estimated four out of five job-seekers flunk a basic skills test."

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Posted by JuliusJones on 02/05/2014 at 11:06 AM

A for instance ...

- Nashville Metro Fire Department covers 497 square miles, and a population of 601,000, with a staff of 1,205.

- Memphis Fire Department covers 324 square miles, and a population of 647,000, with a staff of 1,875.

I could do several more, but am sure you get the picture. This issue was put "front & center" in the faces of Memphis city administration and nothing has been done.

This is but one example of the continuing gross mismanagement of taxpayer resources perpetrated by your inept Herenton / Wharton City administration(s).

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Posted by JuliusJones on 02/05/2014 at 12:58 PM

Thanks! I knew I did not just dream that. Well I would suggest that job training would be a very good candidate for an additional $20 million a year. Not only would increased employment help reduce our crime rate, but it would help grow the local economy which in turn would actually stand to increase both local property values and sales tax revenue.

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Posted by barf on 02/05/2014 at 12:59 PM

Louisville covers 342 square miles, and a population of 597,000, with a combined Fire (520) / Emergency Medical Services (279) staff of 799.

I'm sure you get the picture.

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Posted by JuliusJones on 02/05/2014 at 1:11 PM

Memphis / 653K people / 2855 officers / 324 sq miles = 8.8 officers per sq mile
Atlanta / 425.5K people / 2069 officers / 132 sq miles = 15.7 officers per sq mile
Baltimore / 627K people / 3470 officers / 92 sq miles = 37.7 officers per sq mile
Boston / 621K people / 2156 officers / 90 sq miles = 23.9 officers per sq mile
Seattle / 618K people / 1305 officers / 142 sq miles = 9.1 officers per sq mile
Denver / 634K people / 1518 officers / 154 sq miles = 9.7 officers per sq mile

Memphis has the lowest proportion of officers per square mile than any other city above. The closest city in comparison would be Seattle. Oh yeah, per Seattle's online crime stats, Seattle had 21 homicides and 95 rapes in 2013. That is the equivalent of about a month or two in Memphis.

And shall I now compare pay, benefits, pensions, and days off between all these cities. I assure you Memphis is probably at the bottom of that list too. And no, none of these cities, or 95% of other police departments offer 401K's instead of a pension.

Also, the 2,855 officers stat supplied by Wharton is a mirage. That is what MPD is budgeted for but the reality is we have around 2,200 right now and with a hiring freeze and people retiring/resigning we will be at around 2,050 officers by the end of the year. Even channel 5 ran a story tonight about all the people leaving MPD. Guys with less than 10 years on are leaving by the boatload. Overtime is skyrocketing because every shift and investigative bureau is short of manpower.

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Posted by firefox on 02/05/2014 at 8:49 PM


I could have responded to you like Firefox, however you wouldn't have accepted it. Now Firefox is saying basically the same thing I said.

Like I said, figures don't lie, but liars know how to use figures. When you factor in the square miles plus population, Memphis is in the lowest rung of officers.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 02/06/2014 at 12:09 AM

You did not respond b/c you are incompetent. I used official stats provided by the USDJ for cities comparable to Memphis in terms of population and land area. Firefox did not. None of the cities used by that individual are the peer of this city in terms of population and land area. Furthermore, Firefox interjected his own numbers and politically/union/job biased numbers that are impossible to verify (conveniently enough) which proves their opinion is worth squat.

It seems that Firefox is, as you noted, a liar that knows how to use figures- even if not very well. SO as it turns out you have proven yourself to be –as usual- both a liar and a fool more than ready to believe whatever hearsay are unsubstantiated rumor as long as it supports your warped view of the world. Thank you for proving this point once again. In the end, I hope both you and Firefox keep up the good work. Every time you and individuals like firefox post some bit of false information, it does a far greater disservice to whatever point it is you are trying to make. In fact, it does far more damage than any reality and fact supported information I could provide.

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Posted by barf on 02/06/2014 at 10:19 AM

You're right barf. I did not use official numbers from the USDJ. For the cities and number of police officers I used the numbers provided by AC Wharton/George Little which were presented to the City Clowncil on a neat little slide projector last week. As far as the land size area, I got those numbers using a goggle search. But why the hostility? Are you on Wharton's payroll? Is my factual evidence alarming you? Ask any officer if there is currently 2800 officers on MPD. Absolutely not. It is a fact that anywhere between 4 and 10 officers are resigning each month for the past 2 years. Special Orders are sent out via email every Thursday and you can see with your own eyes who is resigning. It is a fact that MPD is losing over a hundred experienced officers (and supervisors) in the next year because they are enrolled in the DROP and their retirement date is coming up this year. In fact, with all the anxiety over the pension and benefits, I would not be surprised if there is a massive sign up this month for the DROP. AC's comments the other day seem to indicate he wants to eliminate DROP. As if the DROP is the reason MPD is short of officers?!! LMAO. The DROP program is designed to show the City how many officers are going to retire. Most people sign up for the 3 year drop. This gives the City 3 years to hire and train officers to offset the losses. But when there is a hiring freeze, there is no one to replace all the retirees. Unless you suggest a retirement freeze? I would not be surprised if AC suggests something like that!

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Posted by forefox on 02/06/2014 at 12:10 PM

The only reason I may come across as hostile is I dislike it when what could be an informative public discussion is polluted with biased information such as the numbers you are providing. We have no way to verify any of your current staffing stats which means it must be regulated to mere conjecture at best. That means it is not factual. I can myself find dozens of cities that support more officers on the ground than Memphis in terms of sheer numbers, as related to population or based on a per square mile criteria. However, these cities may- or in the official numbers provided by the USDJ (and supported by FBI info I read after posting yesterday)- do not necessarily correlate well with Memphis. In some cases their population is too small or too large. In some cases the poverty rates were far lower than here. In other cases these cities municipal boundaries encompassed areas that were either much larger or much smaller than Memphis. By the way, another variable that really should be included is not simply the municipal boundary, but the portion of that area that is urbanized. For example: while Jacksonville may encompasses over 874 sq. miles, a full 127 sq. miles is water. Of the 747 sq. mi. of land within its municipal boundaries, something like a third of that area is swamp, farmland, forest and/or otherwise undeveloped and/or unpopulated rural areas. Thus their saturation might appear to be lower than it is in application because while I am sure that Bob’s farm needs protection, it is really the number of police per sq. mi. of urbanized area that is the root number that would be of interest.

Personally I do not know what the best answer is. However, I do know that simply coughing up whatever sum the police and fire request is foolhardy yet I also know that there is such a thing as too deep of a cut at which point other programs must be cut or taxes must be increased. While I had great faith in the police and their honesty several years ago, that confidence evaporated when they undertook their billboard campaign which can be summarized as “Give us what we want or we’ll let this city burn”. For now on I will be asking questions and not simply accept the numbers they provide as fact.

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Posted by barf on 02/06/2014 at 1:28 PM


You are back peddling without a bike. Land area makes all of the difference in the world. What you are saying is letting criminals commit crimes in the urban portion of a city, and if they escape to the rural parts of the city, they are free. That is nonsense. It is just like, in the not so old days, New Orleans and the city of Algiers. Do a crime in New Orleans, get to Algiers and you're home free.

Anytime one can sit on their porch in a large urban city with plenty of poverty for hours at a time and not see a patrol car, you are understaffed. Anytime you see lots of arrests made, but no charges brought forth (cases dismissed), you are understaffed. Yes, it means that you don't have enough officers to take the time to get it right. Anytime you have the majority of drivers on major streets speeding, you are understaffed. Any time you have robberies where almost a hundred percent of the time the suspect gets away, you are understaffed.

When a police department is understaffed, they can't reduce crime, all they can do is keep crime within a defined area, keeping it away from the more affluent neighborhoods. That is why, in Memphis, you see a concentration of patrol cars on the boundaries of poor to middle class and upper neighborhoods. Me, I want enough police to actually be able to service the poorer neighborhoods and reduce crime from the inside out.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 02/06/2014 at 3:58 PM

Well you missed the point entirely- again. Please use Google maps and aerials when referring to the areas in question. Rural and undeveloped areas are just that- farms, forests and fields. Hopefully you realize that Algiers is a developed quarter of New Orleans chock full of neighborhoods- homes and apartments, businesses and industry, golf courses and parks. In fact the only "undeveloped" parcels are public land and parks and that is an extremely small percentage of the area- something along the lines of 5%. It is right there in Google for you and all of creation to see for themselves.

With every comment you make, you simply show your lack of knowledge or experience regarding this or any matter.

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Posted by barf on 02/06/2014 at 6:08 PM
Posted by CL Mullins on 02/06/2014 at 6:29 PM
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