Quick fixes are the order of the day at City Hall. Mayor Herenton refused to give police and other public employees any pay raises for the next two years, claiming that the first priority is to replenish the city's nearly nonexistent reserve fund. Yet, in the same breath he proposed and got adopted a budget that fills hundreds of frozen nonessential positions and creates some new nonessential jobs to boot.
And despite telling police officers there is no money for pay raises, the city leaders managed to find another $2 million to begin the lengthy process of recruiting and training an additional 50 police officers -- instead of moving trained police officers who are working desk jobs to the street and replacing them with lower-paid civilians.
Meanwhile, the crime rate rises every day, with more and more children and youth caught in the crossfire -- casualties of the lack of leadership from this administration and of federal and state policies that have fractured our social-service network.
A better fix would have been to adopt a bare-bones budget this year, keeping many of the frozen positions frozen and moving police from desk jobs to the street. We should have followed through on many of the recommendations of law enforcement experts at the City Council's March 28th public-safety hearing and allow police and public employees to come back to the table next year to negotiate if the city's financial picture looks better. All this would have bolstered employee morale and our crime-fighting efforts.
It defies common sense to think that our law enforcement officers will get a handle on the rising crime problem in Memphis when the mayor calls their union leaders irresponsible for simply asking for a cost-of-living raise. If you're going to ask working folks to tighten their belts, it should be done with respect, and you should be willing to do some belt tightening of your own.
A more comprehensive approach is needed, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the solutions. It was all spelled out in the four-hour public-safety hearing held by the City Council just three months ago. Most of the experts in this community -- the district attorney, the crime commissioner, former police chiefs, and criminal justice professors -- espoused general agreement on many of the needed strategies. Not a single one of these experts mentioned a shortage of police manpower or the need to duplicate the long-standing and effective Crime Stoppers program with a similar program run by the city.
And how can we expect additional police officers to do their job effectively when the city once again has canceled the police promotional test that would have added needed supervisors and crime investigators. You do not send your troops into the field to do battle without sufficient sergeants and majors to lead the way.
On the heels of the city's decision not to offer a youth summer-job program and to abandon Libertyland (which was a source of summer jobs for youth), it's no wonder children are getting into trouble on our streets. They are left to fend for themselves. With calls for curfews and military-type tactics in order to enforce law and order, the mayor doesn't have a clue. He focuses instead on reliving his Golden Gloves glory days in a boxing match.
Incredibly, with children being killed nearly every day, the administration disregards offers of manpower from the county sheriff, apparently out of pride and a determination to go it alone after dismembering the metro gang unit. Hype, innuendo, broken promises, duplication of efforts, and excess rule the day, while the people are left defenseless.
So now the mayor proposes a crime summit this fall to figure out what to do. It is written that, where there is no vision, the people perish. Memphis is now suffering the consequences of an administration that has not exercised the vision and initiative necessary to protect the citizens. Inevitably, too many of those most vulnerable among us -- the children -- will also perish.
Councilwoman Carol Chumney is chair of the City Council's public-safety committee.