Crime reduction, community outreach, gang intervention efforts, recruitment, and retention are the top priorities in the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) proposed budget for next year.
MPD Director Michael Rallings told Memphis City Council members during budget hearings last week that police recruitment and retention are the most important of his budget's four priorities. His goal (and Mayor Jim Strickland's) is to have 2,300 officers by 2021. The department is understaffed, he said, with 1,982 officers responding to about 983,000 calls each year.
An officer shortage can be expensive, Rallings said, as more officers are needed to work overtime. For fiscal year 2018, the department is on track to go over its budget for overtime by about $4.5 million. Rallings said the overage is due, in part, to special events like MLK50, the removal of the Confederate statues, and the protests that preceded and followed their removal.
Council chairman Berlin Boyd expressed concern over the amount of overtime money spent, asking Rallings, "How much longer do you think we'll constantly see a need for an increased overtime budget, in that sense of over $20 million?"
- Memphis Police Department / Facebook
- A recent MPD graduation.
The director told Boyd and colleagues that the department "is going to continue to do the best we can" to manage overtime, but that right now overtime is the only resource to ensure there are enough officers on the streets. The more officers that are hired, the less money the department will have to budget for overtime, Rallings said.
Despite the department's "many gains" over recent years, Rallings said, "We're still not satisfied."
In 2019, MPD plans to expand recruiting efforts and hire 100 new officers, which would cost about $4 million. The department is also looking to hire 40 new police service technicians (police recruits who respond to minor calls like traffic accidents) costing close to $1.3 million. Additionally, $300,000 is slated to be put into the "Best in Blue" recruiting campaign.
In order to retain more officers, Rallings said the department will implement recognition and incentive programs, while offering more promotional testing to officers.
Rallings said that while promotional tests cost "a lot" upfront, they are cheaper than paying for a lawsuit brought on by an officer who hasn't been offered a promotion.
"This is happening all over the country," he said.
Councilman Worth Morgan asked if the department is on the right track to graduate enough officers each year to reach the goal of 2,300 officers in three years.
"Do we need to be more aggressive?" he asked.
Rallings said the department should be more aggressive and that the "high-reaching goal" is to recruit 150 officers each year, calling the number "our true goal."
"We've had some challenges actually finding qualified applicants," Rallings said. "It's not an issue of not having applicants; it's an issue of having qualified applicants."
The council approved MPD's budget with no amendments during the first round of budget hearings last week. However, the council has until the end of June to change the budget before final approval.